Trotsky, Bolshevism and the Civil War in Russia



Detailed account of the dilemmas of revolutionary politics after 1917

For the Bolsheviks, the Soviet Republic emerged from the October Revolution of 1917 would be the first link of a workers' and socialist world republic, the Bolsheviks caused the new order to be born by proclaiming its world vocation: the Soviet revolution was international and internationalist. At the beginning of 1918, Lenin wrote: “Our revolution is the prologue of the socialist world revolution, a step towards it. The Russian proletariat cannot, by its own forces, successfully complete the socialist revolution. But it can give its revolution an extension that will create better conditions for the socialist revolution, and to some extent start it. It can make the situation more favorable for the entry on the scene, in the decisive battles, of its main and safest collaborator, the European and North American socialist proletariat”. But, still in the middle of the world war, while the international revolution did not arrive, the realization of peace was the most urgent problem: an armistice with Germany was sealed on December 2, 1917 on the basis of the status quo territorial warfare and the organization of relations with the new government.

During the negotiations with the German representatives, in the framework of the preparation of the agreements, the Bolshevik delegation demanded that any general peace be based on the following principles: (a) The union by violence of the territories conquered during the war would not be tolerated. The immediate evacuation of troops from the occupied territories; (b) The complete restoration of the political independence of the peoples deprived of their independence in the course of the present war; (c) Groups of different nationalities that did not enjoy political independence before the war should be guaranteed the right to decide freely whether they wanted to belong to one or another state, or whether by means of a referendum they would enjoy national independence. In this referendum all inhabitants of the territory in question, including refugee immigrants, would have complete freedom to vote.

Trotsky was at the head of the Soviet delegation in the negotiations with the German General Staff, in Brest Litovsk, when he adopted a politically offensive attitude, at the same time that the fraternization between Russian and German troops in the front. On January 5, 1918, there was a German ultimatum with leonine conditions: the Bolsheviks were divided between the position of Lenin (in favor of accepting him) and that of Bukharin (who defended a “revolutionary war” against Germany). Trotsky's intermediate position won: stopping the war, but without signing the peace. Result: new German offensive and new Russian rout. Under these conditions, the Bolsheviks were forced to accept even harsher conditions: by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Soviet Republic lost 26% of its population, 27% of its fertile land, 26% of its railways, 75% of its coal, iron and steel, 40% of the industrial proletariat.

Soviet Russia relinquished control over Finland, the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, as well as the Turkish districts of Ardaham and Kars, and the Georgian district of Batum. The Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets examined the Treaty, which was opposed by the Left SRs (Revolutionary Socialists) and by the “Left Communist” fraction of Bolshevism headed by Bukharin and Kalinin – who advocated a revolutionary war that would combine with the proletarian revolution in the West. The “leftists” had their own magazine, which circulated freely in Soviet Russia: “Between April and June 1918, four issues of the magazine The Communist will be published in Moscow. It contains the analyzes and criticisms elaborated by the first leftist faction to appear within the Bolshevik party after the seizure of power in October 1917. It crystallized in January 1918 in opposition to Lenin's policy of advocating a separate peace with Germany. This faction, animated by Bukharin, Ossinsky, Radek and Smirnov, rejected Lenin's policy of 'compromise' because they believed that signing a separate peace with Germany would run counter to the development of the revolution in other countries, as it would allow militarism to central powers to concentrate on the western front and more easily repress revolutionary movements.

“That is why Bukharin will accuse Lenin of 'high treason against the revolution'. This fear was all the more justified since, in article two of the peace treaty, the Bolsheviks pledged themselves to no longer carry out revolutionary propaganda within the Central Powers, that is, nothing less than to forbid the extension of the revolution! Knowing the content of the concessions made in that treaty, as well as Lenin's inclination to accept the help of English and French imperialism, Bukharin will exclaim: "You are making a pile of shit out of the party!" Despite the severe criticism and accusations leveled at the guidelines defended by the leading circles of the Bolshevik party, this faction was able to dispose of all the political and material means necessary to defend its point of view, including at the organizational level, with a press and separate meetings”.[I]

Advocates of this policy were defeated by 453 votes to 36 in the Bolshevik faction's convention, and obliged to maintain its discipline in the Soviet Congress. The Congress gathered 1.232 delegates, of which 64% were Bolsheviks, 25% left-wing SRs, 25 “centrist” SR delegates, 21 Mensheviks and 3 internationalist Mensheviks (led by Martov). The “Treaty of Brest-Litovsk”, signed between the Soviet government and the Central Powers (German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria and Ottoman Empire) on March 1918, XNUMX, made it possible for Russia to leave the world conflict. The Bolshevik government also annulled all of the Russian Empire's agreements with its allies before and during World War I.

The terms of the Treaty were humiliating. Even Lenin, defending his signature, called the treaty a "disgraceful peace". The territories granted to the Germans contained a third of Russia's population and 50% of its industry. Most of these territories became, in practice, informal parts of the German Empire. However, after the German revolution started on November 9, 1918, which overthrew the monarchic regime, the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets declared the Treaty annulled. At the same time, Germany's defeat in the war, marked by the armistice signed with the allied countries on November 11, 1918, allowed Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to become independent states. Belarus and Ukraine became involved in the Russian civil war and ended up being annexed to Soviet territory again.

But even in 1918, Soviet Russia was surrounded by German protectorates: Ukraine, with Skoropadsky, Finland, with Mannerheim, the Don, with Krasnov; the Japanese, for their part, had occupied the frontier of Chinese Manchuria. In May of that year, the Czech Legion, which had been in Russia since the World War, attacked territories dominated by the Soviet government, in a military campaign financed by the French government. In Omsk and Samara anti-Soviet governments were created, English troops landed in the North. With this external blockade, the situation in Soviet cities was one of food shortages. Half a year after the “October coup”, on June 9, 1918, Trotsky summed up the situation in the country like this: “Among all the questions that grip our hearts, there is a very simple one that weighs more than all the others: that of the everyday bread. A single problem dominates all our anxieties and thoughts: how to survive tomorrow... Everything is difficult and painful, the country is in ruins and there is no bread”.

The German withdrawal gave the Soviet government some breathing room, but foreign and counterrevolutionary troops were everywhere: the Czech Legion beyond the Urals, the "White" Admiral Kolchak in the East, General Denikin in the South East, the Japanese in Vladivostok, the French in Baku and in the Baltic countries, together with General Iudenich, and also in Odessa, Ukraine. Food shortages deepened, leading to famine in which millions of people perished. On July 6, 1918, there was the assassination of the German ambassador in Moscow, Count Wilhelm von Mirbach, by a young militant Socialist Revolutionary (SR), Jacob Blumkin, in an action of “active boycott” of that party to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

During the short period in which the territories ceded in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk were in the hands of the German army, anti-Bolshevik forces were able to organize and arm themselves. These forces were divided into three basic groups that also fought each other: (1) Tsarist generals and supporters of the monarchy; (2) Liberals, “esserites” (SR) and moderate socialists; (3) Anarchists. With the defeat of the German Empire, the ceded territories again became a target of dispute, as well as bases from which the military forces that intended to overthrow the Bolshevik government departed. Under these conditions, a civil war broke out which the Bolsheviks certainly did not want. On one side, 500 soldiers in so-called “white” troops, remnants of the former tsarist army, commanded by reactionary officers or by adventurers divided by ambitions and corruption. With no policy, except appropriating the weapons and money, which came from countries without enthusiasm for entering a new international crisis.

Less than a month after the October Revolution, as reported by the French military attaché in Russia, "Trotsky spoke of the urgent need to reorganize the army."[ii] Faced with internal and external hostilities, the Red Army was officially created in January 1918, initially made up of peasant and worker volunteers. Trotsky, appointed war commissioner, found himself with an army with a single regular division, that of the Latvian riflemen, many of whom did not even speak Russian and had been mobilized for months away from their homeland, between an international conflict and a national one that it had hit both his strength and his morale. Joining them were a handful of Imperial Army officers loyal to the new regime and several thousand Red Guards with little military training or discipline. Faced with the need to start from scratch, Trotsky turned to the military commissars to instruct them on the organization of the new army so that they could help form it to defend the revolution, starting with the defeat of the counterrevolutionary armies. An adversary that, although it also based its strength on irregular troops, had at all times the military support of the British Empire, France, the United States and the Japanese Empire.

The new military command was formed with the participation of officers from the Tsar's former imperial army who had decided to remain in their posts after the October Revolution. This was accepted and taken advantage of by Trotsky, the designated head (along with other leading Bolshevik cadres such as Ephraim Skliansky) of the new Army, who imposed this position after sharp controversy in the Bolshevik party. As the civil war unleashed by former officers (Lavr Kornilov and Anton Denikin, among others) allied with the big landowners intensified, the Soviet power resorted to compulsory conscription. The decisive factor in the course and outcome of the war was that the peasant mass chose the Bolsheviks, despite the forced requisitions for the crops, because it expected the land from them (the “white” victory was equivalent to the return of the former big landowners); the Bolsheviks, on the other hand, conducted a strategically unified war against divided and scattered enemies: this would be the key to their victory.

The creation of the Red Army was not just a military measure, but part of a program of social and political transformation. The Red Army reached five million soldiers, controlled by “political commissars”. Badly armed, poorly supplied, precariously led militarily, but with superior morale and unified political leadership. Trotsky addressed the Communist International in these terms: “We have before us the task of creating an organized army based on the principle of trust between comrades and the discipline of revolutionary work and order… The complex task of putting an end to the oppression of class. within the army, conscientiously destroying class chains and the old discipline of duty, creating a new armed force of the revolutionary state, in the form of an army of workers and peasants, which will act in the interests of the proletariat and the poor peasants... that the lack of technical forces has a disastrous effect on the adequate formation of revolutionary armies, because the Revolution did not produce, among the working masses, combatants with knowledge of the military art. This is the weak point of all revolutions, as the history of all previous insurrections shows us”.

The debate on the composition of the Army, the reuse or not (and in which position in the military hierarchy) of sectors of the former officers of the Imperial Army, was part of a broader debate about the “military doctrine of the revolution”, in which Trotsky defended , against Frunzé, that there was a universally valid military science, while Frunzé defended a unique, completely new, proletarian doctrine. Trotsky won the support of the majority of the party: the Soviet regime “recycled” almost 48.500 soldiers and officers of the imperial army into the new army,[iii] including the future Marshal Tukhachevski. Some patriotic elements of the former ruling class, especially military officers, joined the Soviet government against outside intervention: “Patriotic sentiments were the main motive which led a good number of officers of the old army to offer their services to the Soviet government, to which they were hostile. They understood that the national liberation of Russia was linked to Soviet power, and they saw that the 'patriotic associations' that fought against the soviets were transformed into agencies of imperialist powers, that wanted to snatch up the corn fields and the oil and mineral reserves of Russian soil. ”.[iv]

The three years following the establishment of the Soviet government were marked by civil war, which broke out in April 1918. Taking into account the regional conflicts, it ended in 1922, four years later. The "Whites" capitulated in 1920, but the war continued against the so-called "Greens", groups of Cossacks and peasants who ravaged the rural districts, and against Polish and Japanese troops. The conflict with the Poles ended in 1921; the Japanese withdrew from Russian Siberia only in 1922. The dispersion of the fighting forces (including the revolutionary side) was the dominant note: the “white” groups were led by tsarist generals supported by the “liberals” (the “kadetes”); the Red Army was led by the Bolshevik government; there were also anarchist militias (the “Makhnovist Insurgent Army”, also known as the “Black Army”) in Ukraine, ally or opponent of the Red Army depending on the circumstances; the peasant “Green Army” and foreign intervention troops, sent by France, the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States and ten other countries. The belligerent nations of World War I decided to intervene in favor of the "White Army", which was divided.

English, Dutch, American and Japanese troops landed both in the western regions (Crimea and Georgia) and in the eastern ones (with the occupation of Vladivostok and Eastern Siberia). Its objectives were to overthrow the Bolshevik government and install a regime favorable to Russia's continuation in the war; its main objective, however, was to prevent the spread of communism in Europe, hence the expression of sanitary cordon used by Georges Clemenceau (Prime Minister of France), with the intention of creating a security barrier around Soviet Russia. The intervention of the Triple Entente allies against Soviet Russia was a multinational military operation: it involved fourteen nations and was conducted over a vast expanse of Russian territory.

At first the pretext was to rescue the Czechoslovak Legion to secure supplies of armaments and ammunition in Russian ports, and eventually re-establish the eastern front of the First World War. With the end of the war, the former allied countries against the Central Powers, including the newly arrived USA, intervened in the Russian civil war by supporting the anti-Bolshevik troops.[v] However, opposition to the ongoing military campaign became widespread in the Entente countries, due to a combination of lack of domestic public support and war fatigue; divided and diverging objectives and the lack of an overall strategy made outside intervention difficult. These factors, together with the evacuation of the Czechoslovak Legion and the deteriorating international situation, forced the Allies to withdraw from Northern Russia and Siberia in 1920.

After the attack of the Czech Legion stationed in Siberia, consisting of forty thousand soldiers and officers, there was a great "white" offensive in the summer of 1918: the Bolsheviks withdrew from Asia and Siberia and were threatened from the north and south. But after the Kazan victory they rejected the whites as far as the Urals; the German capitulation at the end of 1918 (in the world war) allowed them to retake Riga and penetrate the Ukraine. The whites, reorganized by General Kolchak, launched a new offensive in 1919, retaking Riga together with the German “Franco Corps”, threatening Petrograd and Moscow from the south. At this point, Red Army action and command became decisive, with Trotsky personally traveling all the battlefronts in an armored train, mixing military command with political agitation among the troops: Trotsky's oratorical powers became legendary.

The “whites” were rejected until they organized a new offensive in 1920 with Baron Wrangel's army, armed and equipped by France, and with the Russo-Polish war, in which France also intervened through its military mission in Warsaw. Despite the evident will to intervene against the Soviet revolution and important material investments, the western powers finally gave up on a large-scale operation due to their own crisis: there were mutinies in the French and English fleets, demonstrations by workers and soldiers in Canada and the formation of the “Council of Action” by the British trade unions, which threatened a general strike, which prevented England's direct support of Poland against Soviet Russia.

The lack of unity, coordination and common strategy among the “white” leaders were the main causes of the defeat of the anti-Bolshevik reaction, which came to have strong external support (mainly from France, Great Britain and Japan) during the first year of the conflict. But this support turned out to be unstable, fragile, and entered into crisis with the continuation of warlike hostilities. The demobilized German troops did not intend to continue a war they had already lost: some of them (the sailors) staged revolutionary episodes on their return “home”. With Allied support gone, the Red Army was able to inflict increasing defeats on the White Army and the remaining anti-Soviet forces. During the external intervention, the presence of foreign troops was used effectively as a means for patriotic propaganda by the Bolsheviks, winning the support of portions of the former imperial officialdom. The international crisis, added to the majority support of the poorest peasant population, were factors in the “red” victory in the civil war.

There were mutinies in the interventionist troops, highlighting the “Black Sea revolt” of the French fleet, when it was ready to attack Odessa:[vi] “When, after the armistice of November 11, 1918, his ship was part of the squadron sent to Odessa to fight the Russian Revolution, André Marty – who would have asked unsuccessfully to leave the army in November 1918 and January 1919 - Was at the center of riots known as the Black Sea Uprising. Already in February 1919, refusal to obey movements appeared in the Army. In March, an engineering company refused to open fire on the 'Reds' in Odessa. Discontent was also evident among “the war-weary sailors (often former workers), who were not inclined to stop the advance of the Bolsheviks – who arrived in Odessa in early April – and who vehemently demanded the improvement of food supplies and their demobilization. ”.[vii]

In April 1919, the warships Jean Bart e France were sent to the Black Sea to help the “whites” in the Russian civil war. On April 19, 1919, the crews of these ships mutinied against their commanders. Despite their sympathies with the "reds" (and their hostility to the "whites"), the main complaints of the crews were the slowness of their demobilization after the end of the war, and the small quantity and atrocious quality of the rations. The French government finally accepted the mutineers' demands, but harassed their leaders upon their return to France. Among them were Charles Tillon and André Marty, who would stay in close political association throughout their lives. Marty was arrested, tried and sentenced to twenty years in prison with hard labor. He became an international hero of communism and was symbolically elected to the Moscow soviet by the factory workers. Dynamo, and became, after his release, a leader of the Communist Party of France and the Communist International, playing an important role in the International Brigades during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.[viii]

The French landing in Odessa, finally carried out despite the riots, allowed the Gallic troops, in which the future president Charles de Gaulle was officiating as commander, to control the south of Ukraine and Crimea. The British controlled Batum, Baku, the Caucasus, Kuban, East Don, Reval, and supported the “white” governments in the region. In 1919, the whites, led by Kolchak, threatened the very center of Soviet power, with Kolchak in the Urals, Denikin in the south, Yudenitch moving from Estonia to the capital. Between the whites and the reds, local governments moved from one camp to another: they traded in Central Asia with the British, they divided Ukraine between supporters of the nationalist Petliura and those of the anarchist Makhno, while the population, terrified by the changes (Kiev was taken and retaken 16 times by the various belligerent camps) hid in the forest. Kolchak did not hide his desire to reconstitute the old Russian Empire.

The French found that the white troops were led most of the time by “warlords”, ineffective, versatile and, also, hostile to a foreign intervention, but who should come to their aid. “Denikin's army is more of a hindrance than a help, it has all the faults of the old Russian army and lacks its qualities,” noted a French commander. The position of the few foreign troops involved in this immense theater of operations proved to be extremely precarious from the start. Six weeks after the initial landing in Odessa, just 3.000 French troops were deployed to occupy Ukraine, a territory larger than France itself. It was impossible to move inland. Morale was very low: the troops did not understand what they were doing there and were reluctant: "Our military, worked by intense Bolshevik propaganda, does not dream of fighting a country with which France is not officially in a state of war" , stated the same officer. Propaganda urging troops to disobey and join the Russian Revolution fueled paranoia in the French General Staff. Closer observers noted, however, that it was not Bolshevik propaganda that undermined the morale of the troops, but their weariness and lack of understanding in the face of an intervention that did not seem justified. Since the armistice of November 11, 1918, the war, in people's minds, was over, and if Russia wanted to make a revolution, that was her problem; France must not interfere. An officer stationed in Sevastopol noted that Bolshevik propaganda did not have much effect on the troops, but the hostile attitude of the population had a very profound impact.[ix]

At the end of 1919, the efforts and the strategic-military capacity of Trotsky and his General Staff, the resistance of the allies to go further, the concerns of the peasants and nationalities, were tipping the balance towards the Bolshevik side. The military structure planned by Trotsky was a success; he himself supervised military operations traveling to all fronts for almost three years in an armored train. The “red” war was conducted with an iron fist. Its great literary chronicler, himself a Red Army soldier, reported that atrocities were committed by the Red Cossacks, many of them described in his great novel about it. One of Isaak Babel's characters said: "This is not a Marxist revolution, it is a Cossack rebellion". And again: “I feel very sorry for the future of the Revolution… We are the vanguard, that's fine, but what exactly?… Why can't I overcome my sadness? Because I am far from my family, because we are destroyers, because we advance like a hurricane, like a tongue of lava, hated by everyone, life shatters, I am in an immense, interminable campaign in the service of bringing the dead to life”.[X] The book was not censored by the Soviet regime (on the contrary, it enjoyed great popularity).

The problems in conducting the revolutionary war already manifested themselves at that moment as conflicts between the leadership of the Red Army, mainly Trotsky, and the party group headed by Stalin: “As Commissar of Nationalities, Stalin exercised a decisive influence in several of the main scenarios of the civil war. At Tsaritsyn [future Stalingrad], he quickly became involved in the 'military opposition' of Voroshilov and Budienny against former Tsarist officers recruited by Trotsky, encouraging military disobedience against these 'bourgeois' figures. Raised against Trotsky, whom he criticized every chance he got, Stalin took control of Tsaritsyn's military defense immediately after Lenin sent him to secure the shipment of grain supplies from the region. 'I must possess military powers', he wrote Lenin in mid-July. 'I will remove these military commanders and commissars who are ruining everything'… Grandiloquent and arrogant, he promised the capture of Baku, the North Caucasus and even Turkestan [which did not happen] ”.[xi] These conflicts led to a crisis in the leadership of Bolshevism: the first Stalinist proto-fraction was constituted, probably, giving vent to social resentment, not precisely from a working-class base.

There were even acts of insubordination on the Tsaritsyn front, leading to military defeats, which prompted Trotsky to ask the Sovnarkom to remove Stalin from his responsibilities. The government, on Lenin's proposal, partially agreed and displaced Stalin, sending him to his home region in the Caucasus, but refused to punish him politically. Sverdlov, who was head of State, even wrote to Trotsky, trying to appease him, that Stalin was surrounded by “old comrades” against whom it would be inconvenient to be at odds, which would happen if he were sanctioned (the sanction would trigger a crisis in the party, in conditions of civil war).[xii] Trotsky's “non-Bolshevik” background could be used against his leadership of the Red Army (and indeed it was).[xiii] These episodes and the military conflicts marked the future relationship between Stalin and Trotsky: the former developed a strong animosity against the “newcomer” who, in addition to surpassing him with his intellectual brilliance, had immediately conquered leading political and military positions.

In the economic field, due to the social emergency situation and the current revolutionary impetus, the Bolshevik party instituted “war communism”. Money and the market were practically abolished, replaced by a directed economy based on taxation in kind on cereals and other goods produced by peasants. One of the economically negative consequences of these measures was to discourage planting, as they made peasants feel that it would be enough to produce to support their families; the urban centers almost ran out of food, causing an exodus from the cities to the countryside. Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) and Moscow saw their populations cut in half. A city-country conflict took shape, and had its first manifestations in the civil war of 1918-1921, before exploding with enormous force in the late 1920s.

On July 6, 1918, after the assassination of the German ambassador in Moscow, Count Wilhelm von Mirbach, by a revolutionary socialist militant, there was a series of uprisings and peasant rebellions that lasted until December 1922, when opponents of the Bolshevik regime were definitely defeated. At the V All-Russian Congress of Soviets, with an overwhelming Bolshevik majority, the anti-Bolshevik speeches of the anarchists and the Socialist-Revolutionaries did not receive support and provoked repulsion from the vast majority of delegates. Defeated at the Soviet Congress, these currents decided to sabotage the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, seeking to drag Soviet Russia into a new war with Germany: the assassination of the German ambassador by the SRs was part of this attempt (its author, Sklansky, after a period in prison, was granted amnesty and became a Bolshevik and Trotsky's military assistant; "left opponent" during Stalin's rise, was shot). The assassination of the German diplomat was repudiated by Lenin in the international press.[xiv]

Other serious problems were caused by dissidence, which led to military confrontation between forces of the revolutionary camp. The most famous was that of the anarchists in Ukraine. The Ukrainian anarchist movement began in the village of Gulai-Pole, under the leadership of Nestor Makhno (1888-1934), and spread through the neighboring regions of Aleksandrovsk until reaching Kiev. Makhno had been elected president of the soviet in Gulai-Pole, his birthplace, in August 1917, and he had organized a small militia to expropriate the estates and divide them up among the poorest peasants. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ceded Ukraine to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a “Makhnovist” militia formed and successfully carried out guerrilla actions against the invading German army. With the armistice of November 1918, foreign troops withdrew. The Makhnovist militia then turned against the Ukrainian nationalist leader Petliura. Then Petliura was defeated by the Red Army; during the clash between “reds” and nationalists, Gulai-Pole came under the dominion of the Makhnovists. Makhno took advantage of the temporary lull to convene peasant congresses with the aim of implementing “libertarian communism”: their discussions turned mainly to the defense of the region against other armies.

Local power remained with Makhno's group, which strove to create an economy of free exchange between the countryside and the cities, including Kiev, Moscow and Petrograd. The relative lull ended on June 15, 1919, when, after minor skirmishes between the Makhnovist army and “Red” armed groups, the IV Gulai-Pole Regional Congress invited soldiers from the Red Army base to send their representatives. This was a direct challenge to the Bolshevik military command, exercised personally by Trotsky. On July 4 a Soviet government decree banned the congress and made the Makhnovist movement illegal: its troops attacked Gulai-Pole and dissolved the "anarchist communes". A few days later Denikin's white forces arrived in the region, forcing both factions to ally once again. During the months of August and September, Denikin advanced steadily towards Moscow, while Makhnovists and Communists were forced to retreat, reaching the western borders of Ukraine. In September 1919, Makhno, whose troops numbered twenty thousand, surprised Denikin by launching a victorious attack, cutting off the white general's supply lines and sowing panic and disorder in his rear; at the end of the year the Red Army forced Denikin to retreat to the shores of the Black Sea.

The climax of the “Ukrainian revolution” came in the months following this victory. During the months of October and November, Makhno was in power in the cities of Ekaterinoslav and Aleksandrovsk, his first opportunity to apply the anarchist conception in an urban environment. Makhno's first act after entering these cities (after emptying the prisons) was to announce to the citizens that they were henceforth free to organize their lives as they pleased, without recognizing any authority. Freedom of the press, speech and assembly was proclaimed; in Ekaterinoslav half a dozen periodicals with a wide range of political leanings immediately appeared. Makhno dissolved the Bolshevik "revolutionary committees", advising their members to devote themselves to "some honest work".[xv] For the "new landlord" peasants of Ukraine the policy of complete freedom of trade was the fulfillment of their aspirations. The conflict with the economic-military centralization advocated by the Bolshevik government was inevitable and grew systematically. The Makhnovists adopted the principle of direct election of military commanders, which the Bolsheviks had already rejected. In their propaganda and proclamations, the Maknovist anarchists (urban anarchists in the big cities, in general, did not participate in the movement) even equated the Bolsheviks with the former ruling classes.

The Ukrainian working class did not respond to the Makhnovist movement with the same enthusiasm as the peasants. By refusing to abandon its independence from the Red Army, the Makhnovist movement, described as a variant of banditry, was again declared illegal in 1920 by the Soviet government. The Red Army returned to fight him; during the next eight months both sides suffered heavy casualties. In October 1920, however, Baron Wrangel, Denikin's successor in command of the “whites” in the South, launched an important offensive, departing from Crimea towards the North. The counterrevolution knocked, with its harsh reality, on the door of anarchists and Bolsheviks. On that occasion, the Red Army again requested the help of the Makhnovists, and again the fragile alliance was reformed: “For the Makhnovists it was only a military agreement, absolutely political, because the Bolsheviks continued to be their opponents. For Moscow, the point of view was different: from the moment there was a military alliance, there was automatically political dependence, official recognition of the authority of Soviet political power in Ukraine. These two opposing interpretations were at the base of a latent conflict”.[xvi] A conflict that would lead to the (often tragic) end of attempts at an agreement (interviews were even held between Lenin and Makhno in the Kremlin, during his visit to Moscow.

In Makhno's recollection of his meetings with Lenin, he underlined that the discussion was friendly, although not at all diplomatic, reporting the point on which the political divergence between them centered: “I could not contain myself and nervously told Lenin that anarchism and the anarchists did not throw themselves into the arms of the counterrevolution. “Did I say that?” asked Lenin, who explained to me what he meant: according to him, the anarchists, not having serious organization on a large scale, could not organize the proletariat and the poor peasantry, and consequently could not train them to defend, in the broadest sense of the word, what has been conquered by all of us and what is dear to us... I remember the sincere concern that seized him when he heard my answer: it was the concern that only a man whose life is animated by the passion of fighting a system he hates and by the thirst for victory over that system”.[xvii]

In Moscow, the Ukrainian leader grew disillusioned with Russian “urban anarchism” (proclamatory and scarcely active) and flirtations, which included Trotsky, about the possibility of a lasting alliance between Bolsheviks and anarchists in Ukraine, where Bolsheviks were scarce.[xviii] The Makhnovists, on the other hand, lacked good and sufficient armament, depending on the Bolsheviks. With the civil war practically won by the “reds”, the anarcho-Bolshevik alliance was once again disbanded, restarting mutual hostilities, very violent: “Maknho and his companions shot only the leaders, very high rank soldiers of the Bolsheviks, freeing all soldiers shallow”,[xx] which, of course, was not considered a magnanimous attitude on the part of the Red Army.

According to story In Trotsky's retrospective, “the peasants had approved of the 'Bolsheviks' but were becoming more and more hostile to the 'Communists'… (Makhno) stopped and looted the trains destined for the factories, the mills and the Red Army… anarchist struggle against the state. In reality, it was the struggle of the exasperated small proprietor against the proletarian dictatorship… These were convulsions of the peasant petty bourgeoisie that wanted to get rid of capital, but, at the same time, did not accept submitting to the dictatorship of the proletariat”.[xx] Trotsky cataloged the Tambov Peasant Uprising (led by Socialist Revolutionaries) in similar terms. The civil war and political polarization gradually transformed Bolshevism into the absolute master of the political scene, the only party represented in the soviets (between 70% and 80% of delegates at the All-Russian Congress of Soviets in autumn 1918; 99% of delegates at the same congress in 1920)[xxx]. In the old ruling classes, the social base of the old bourgeois and aristocratic parties had been transformed into “hawkers, porters, attendants of small cafes”,[xxiii] when he had not opted for exile.

On November 25, 1920, leaders of the Makhnovist army, gathered in Crimea on the occasion of the victory over Wrangel, were arrested and executed by the Cheka. The next day, on Trotsky's orders, Gulai-Pole was attacked and occupied by the Red Army. Clashes with supporters of the makhnovitchina became widespread, and the Cheka (Soviet political police) did not hesitate to carry out mass shootings, without any type of process, typical of civil war.[xxiii] Makhno managed to escape and go into exile in France, where he continued to defend anarchism and, above all, his role in the Russian revolution, before dying poor, still young and relatively forgotten.

The civil war developed in the midst of these social and political contradictions and the international economic and political blockade of Soviet power, which it tried to get out of through diplomatic and military means. Surprisingly, for those who saw its precarious existence as temporary, the Bolshevik government survived all these adverse factors. The price paid by the Russian population, in addition to the millions of victims caused by the world war, was enormous: Jean-Jacques Marie calculated that 4,5 million people died during the civil war, only part of which was caused by military hostilities. The Red Army, composed less of peasants in uniform (as the Tsarist army was) than of urban and rural unemployed with no military training, had a million fatal casualties over the course of the civil war, nearly two-thirds of them caused by hunger, cold and various illnesses (there was a devastating typhus epidemic). In total, around 3% of the Russian population perished during the civil war, accounting for its direct and indirect victims, a huge percentage to be added to the Russian victims of the world war.[xxv] This human bloodletting and the rigorous military methods used to win the civil war left long-term marks on young Soviet society.

The military expansion of Soviet Russia was provoked by the civil war won by the Red Army until its defeat in Poland, which forced the Soviet power to sign the Treaty of Riga, imposing new territorial losses on top of those granted in Brest-Litovsk and distancing it physically and militarily of the potential revolution in Germany. There was a consensus among Bolsheviks that the worst mistake of the Red Army during the civil war was the offensive on Warsaw in 1920, in the expectation that the Polish proletariat would rise up with the arrival of the “Reds”. None of this happened, and Soviet Russia had to withstand the Polish military counteroffensive led by the nationalist Pilsudski regime, which even took Kiev and part of Ukraine to extend Poland's borders. Young Polish Communists were against the offensive. Trotsky later recognized: “The events of war and those of the revolutionary movement of the masses have different measures. What for the army is measured in weeks and days, the movement of the popular masses calculates in months and years. (In the offensive on Warsaw) we left behind our own victory, rushing to a painful defeat”. Soviet Russia was compelled to sign the Treaty of Riga, which pushed Poland's borders 150 kilometers beyond its "ethnic lines". The “Polish mistake” had historical consequences: “Pilsudski's Poland came out of the war unexpectedly strengthened. A terrible blow was dealt to the Polish revolution. The border established by the Treaty of Riga separated the Soviet Republic from Germany, which later had an exceptional importance in the life of both countries”.[xxiv]

What was corroborated, in his (anti-communist) way and taking into account consequences that Trotsky himself did not witness, by a contemporary historian: “In 1920, the revolutionary Red Army, after the victories in the Russian civil war, invaded Poland in an attempt to to destroy the young state and spread the proletarian revolution in Europe. Red cavalry reached almost to the German border, while Mikhail Tukhachevski's poorly armed troops threatened to encircle Warsaw, the former capital of Russian Poland. In the absence of any effort on the part of Britain and France to protect the state they had recently built, the Poles scored a remarkable victory under the leadership of Joseph Pilsudski, who in 1914 had organized a Polish legion to fight on the side of Austria. -Hungary against Tsarist Russia. The battle for Warsaw is rarely given the weight it deserves in historical narratives of the 1920s, but it saved Eastern Europe from a Communist crusade and preserved Poland's independence from its two dangerous neighbors, Germany and the Soviet Union. , NDA]. The 1920 victory also became the founding myth of the new Polish state and played a role in its later determination not to submit to either of its neighbors in 1939”.[xxv]

Russia had retreated economically to a level below that existing before the First World War. The conditions of military centralization, imposed by the civil war, provoked growing discontent in the population and in the Bolshevik party itself. At the IX Congress of the Communist Party, in March 1920, the Bolshevik Sapronov addressed Lenin: “Do you believe that in blind obedience lies the salvation of the revolution?”. In January 1921, the Pravda published a note of resignation from the party of a communist: “I do not believe in the realization of communism, due to the privileges enjoyed by communists in positions of responsibility”. A militant named Speranski claimed that the party's base workers looked at some leaders with “class hatred”.[xxviii] Lenin himself was critical of “communist arrogance,” against which he privately spoke out in irreproducible terms.

The country's economic situation was dramatic, even beyond the awareness of its own protagonists and main leaders: “The country found itself, in 1920, in a fragile situation in relation to the moment immediately before the First World War. In that year, in the textile industry, only 6% of all spindles were operational, compared with 1913, while the metallurgical industry produced less than 5% and the coal mines of Donetz, 10%. The same can be said of iron ore production, which in 1918 had reached 12,3% of 1913 levels, while in 1920 it had fallen to 1,7%. A good part of the railroads and 50% of the locomotives were inoperative in 1920. In addition, throughout the civil war, the country's workforce would decrease by half (absenteeism would reach 30% in the factories). Heavy industry production was seven times smaller than just before the beginning of the conflict in Europe and that of cast iron reached, in 1921, 116.300 tons, equivalent to 3% of 1913. Combined with low productivity, wages covered only a fifth of the cost of living. In addition, there was a clear depletion of stocks, lack of fuel and a great deterioration of the railways. In the case of agriculture, in 1921 cattle were less than two-thirds of the total, sheep 55%, pigs 40% and horses 71% (compared to 1913), while the arable land had been cut in half. , which led to a significant decrease in the harvest of several crops. Not to mention an extreme drought in the lower Volga region (as well as the plains of the Urals, Caucasus, Crimea and parts of Ukraine) between 1920 and 1921, which wiped out five million people (intense migratory movements, with several cities losing good amount of skilled labor, was also another phenomenon of that moment; only Petrograd, the largest industrial center, had lost 60% of its population)".[xxviii]

In 1921, the economic situation and living conditions of the population were more than worrying. Soviet industry accounted for only 20% of 1914 production. Iron production 1,6% and steel production 2,4%. The coal and oil sectors, less affected by the war, reached 27% and 41% respectively. 60% of the locomotives and 63% of the tracks were out of use. The extent of cultivated surface had receded by 16% and exchanges between countryside and city had been reduced to a minimum. The better-off workers received between 1.200 and 1.900 calories a day out of the 3.000 needed. The industrial proletariat was undone. In 1919 there were three million workers, a year later that number had dropped by half, and in 1921 there were no more than 1.250.000. “War communism” came to be theorized in those years as a direct way passage to communism in a famous Bolshevik manual printed and distributed in millions of copies in Soviet Russia and widely translated and disseminated abroad.[xxix]The Russian civil war, moreover, combined with democratic and anti-imperialist agitation in neighboring countries, which was also a factor of the “red” victory, as it created a factor of international pressure on the interventionist external powers. The Bolsheviks' task, to win a war both internal and external, initially seemed impossible. The civil war ended in 1921 (or 1922, according to authors who consider the set of local skirmishes), but, since 1920, the new regime seemed safe.[xxx]

The political consequences of the civil war were long-term; the Bolsheviks became the sole protagonists of the political scene: “The offensive against the Mensheviks and SRs waned after 1918: placed between the white restoration and the red terror, those chose the latter. The Soviet government, cornered, accepted all help. After the terror of late 1918 ended, SRs and Mensheviks continued to live a fictitious existence, sending delegates to village soviets until the 1920 elections. In theory, this was an impossible activity; in practice it happened. In December 1920 the Mensheviks participated for the last time in the All-Russian Congress of Soviets as representatives of local Soviet organizations: they would no longer be tolerated after that. Martov [historical leader of the Menshevik faction] had already left Russia in the early 1920s, causing the Menshevik leadership to disband. What was left of the Menshevik party either joined the Bolsheviks or abandoned politics. With the end of the civil war, the Bolsheviks no longer had any organized opposition.”[xxxii]

The civil war turned the Bolsheviks into a "one party" after the failed attempt on Lenin's life by their former left-wing SS allies (although Fanny Kaplan, its author, insisted that she had acted on her own: she was summarily executed). The sequels of the attack were considered responsible for the decline of Lenin's health and for his premature death, in 1924, at the age of 55. There were also the murders of Uritsky, a member of the Central Committee, and of the popular Bolshevik orator Volodarsky: “The events of the summer of 1918 left the Bolsheviks without rivals or cronies as the dominant party in the state; and they owned Czech an organ of absolute power. There remained, however, a strong reluctance to use this power without restraint. The moment for the final extinction of the excluded parties had not yet arrived. Terror was, at this time, a capricious instrument and it was normal to find parties against which the most violent anathemas had been pronounced and the most drastic measures taken to continue to survive and enjoy a certain measure of tolerance.

“One of the first decrees of the new regime had authorized the Sovnarkom to close down all newspapers that preached 'open resistance or disobedience to the Workers' and Peasants' Government' and, in principle, the bourgeois press ceased to exist. Despite this decree, however, and despite the banning of the cadet party at the end of 1917, the cadet newspaper Svoboda Rossi it was still published in Moscow in the summer of 1918. The Petrograd Menshevik newspaper, Novyi Luch, it was suppressed in February 1918 by his campaign in opposition to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Nevertheless, he reappeared in Moscow in April under the name of Vpered and continued his career for some time without interference. Anarchist newspapers were published in Moscow long after the Cheka's action against the anarchists in April 1918.[xxxi] The civil war swept away de facto compromises between Bolshevism and the opposition, "Soviet" or not.

At the end of the civil war, the symptoms of a stabilization appeared, not only of capitalism, but of the world situation created by the emergence of Soviet Russia. There was a kind of “historic stalemate”: the revolution was not defeated, but was “contained” within Russia's limits. Lenin referred to the Russian revolution as being, for this reason, “half-victorious and half-defeated”: “In any hypothesis, under any circumstances, if the German revolution does not take place, we are doomed” – as Lenin expressed it in February of 1918. And it was not, in his case, a new idea, since he himself declared at the IV RSDLP Congress in 1906: “I would formulate this proposition in the following way: the Russian revolution can achieve victory alone, but it will not succeed. maintain and consolidate its gains by its own strength. It cannot do this unless there is a revolution in the West. Without this condition, restoration is inevitable”.

The civil war caused enormous destruction, the near end of trade and supply: the cities lost 30% of their inhabitants, transport lines did not work, the population suffered from hunger and cold (7,5 million Russians were victims famine and epidemics). The working class was decomposing at the same time as rigorous military centralization was taking place. The hardening of the regime, the emergence of Czech (political police), the passage of other parties to the “white” camp in the civil war, implied the extinction of Soviet democracy. Industry produced 20% of the pre-1914 level; agriculture, basis of survival of the huge Russian population, only 50%. The working class was reduced to less than half its pre-war number, the peasants, now owners of their plots, refused to supply the cities.

The militant workers' vanguard of the 1917 revolution was transformed into a group of "workers' governors" (the conflict in the party over the "militarization of the unions", a measure defended by Trotsky, illustrated this situation), strongly influenced by the authoritarian methods used during the revolution. civil war, and strongly inclined to use them again to solve more pressing problems. In this context, the strikes in Petrograd and, above all, the insurrection in Kronstadt exploded; but also anti-Soviet agitation in the countryside: “The end of the civil war led to a deterioration of political freedom in Russia, passing from repression during the civil war, generalized, but still somewhat provisional, to the complete and systematic repression of parties and groups of opposition after the end of that war. In 1922, the last opposition newspapers and dailies were closed, never to be reopened”.[xxxii]What ultimately sunk the other socialist parties was their opposition to Soviet power, based on the idea that the workers could not gain and maintain power in Russia, and that the Soviet government itself would quickly be overthrown, which turned out to be a calculated calculation. clumsy politician.

In April-May 1918, Lenin had promoted a “state capitalism”, necessary to overcome small property – “if we install it in Russia, the transition to socialism will be easy”, he said – later abandoned by the penury imposed by the internal conflict and International.[xxxv] In April 1918, Lenin explained that “socialism requires a conscious and massive advance towards a productivity of labor superior to that of capitalism and based on that achieved by it”.[xxxiv] On the other hand, since the beginning of 1920, Trotsky had called for the abandonment of war communism, proposing measures that prefigured the NEP (New Economic Policy) adopted in March 1921, being defeated, in this proposal, in the Central Committee by eleven votes against four: “ The CC's decision was wrong,” he would later say. After the civil war, Russia was completely devastated, with serious problems to recover its agricultural and industrial production. In order to promote the country's reconstruction, the Sovnarkom, the highest organ of Soviet power, created, in February 1921, the State Commission for Economic Planning or gosplan, in charge of the general coordination of the country's economy.

It was under these conditions that the Soviet government became a government of strength: “The Bolshevik leaders were aware of their tenuous position. For this reason, his initial policy combined what was opportune with repairing the most immediate sufferings of workers, soldiers and peasants. The first of these elements was the grain requisition. The program encouraging peasants to take ownership of land as sole proprietors, seen by Menshevik opponents as a cynical and opportunistic gesture, recreated the problem of food shortages that had been so acute during the war, under Tsarist and Provisional Government regimes. Currency devaluation and lack of manufactures discouraged peasants from trading their surpluses; the recruitment of fourteen million men had emptied the labor force from the land; and the tendency of peasants to divide the land into tiny family holdings reduced productivity. For these reasons, the Bolsheviks could not realistically expect that there would be enough food before production was re-established in the non-military branches of industry and before exchange between town and country was restored. When his attempt to move the lower strata of the peasantry (the bednote) against the richest peasants, the regime called for the forced requisition of grain, as previous governments had done”.[xxxiv]

Within the framework of the armed organization of the counterrevolution, the “red terror” emerged, which even hit elements of the anti-Bolshevik left when they engaged in activities hostile to Soviet power. On September 5, 1918 the Council of People's Commissars published the decree "On Red Terror" calling for "Isolating the class enemies of the Soviet Republic and executing on the spot every element involved in insurrections, riots or belonging to the White Guard". Isaac Steinberg, responsible for Justice in the Soviet government before leaving it in protest against the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and SR leader, defined terror as “a legal plan of massive intimidation, pressure, destruction, directed by Power”. The injustices and violence committed by the “red terror” were a component, a risk, of the method itself; to say that “the brutal measures were not socialist (but) were revolutionary nonetheless”, however, amounts to dodging the issue.[xxxviii]

The “Red Terror”, all things considered, was inferior to the Jacobin Terror during the French Revolution.[xxxviii] The word “terrorism”, in the political sense, did not have its current meaning, but rather the one given to it by Jacobinism in the French Revolution. The “Red Terror” was officially deployed on September 2, 1918 by Jakob Sverdlov on behalf of the Soviet. The campaign of mass repression began in retaliation for the assassination in Petrograd of Cheka leader Moiseï Uritsky by student and Socialist Revolutionary Party member Leonid Kannegisser and the attempted assassination of Lenin by Socialist Revolutionary Fanny Kaplan on 30 August. 1918. 1.300 “representatives of the bourgeois class” were executed by detachments of the Cheka inside prisons in Petrograd and Kronstadt between 31 August and 4 September 1919. It is even claimed that 500 hostages were executed immediately by the Bolshevik government after the Uritsky's murder.

Faced with the situation in Nizhny Novgorod, a civil insurrection with landlords who prevented military detachments from requisitioning their grain, Lenin replied, in a letter to the Bolsheviks in the region: “Comrades! The uprising ear in your five districts must be crushed without mercy… you must make an example of these people. (1): Hang (I mean publicly hang, so people can see) at least 100 kulaki, rich bastards, and known bloodsuckers; (2): publish their names; (3): confiscate all their grain; (4): select the prisoners according to my instructions in yesterday's telegram. And do all this in such a way that, for miles around, people see all this, understand it, fear it, and say that we are killing the kulaki bloodthirsty and that we will continue to do so…”.

This Lenin proposal, like other similar ones, was not put into practice. In contrast, several “spontaneous” initiatives, even more crushing, took place, such as that of the workers of Nizhny Novgorod who, starving, armed themselves with rifles and machine guns and went through the neighboring campaign in search of food hidden by the peasants who owned individual plots: not a hundred, but several hundred of these were performed without any kind of process, that is, without more process than the performers' own hunger. Lenin intended to channel the dispute over grain as a class struggle in the countryside, calling for the constitution of committees of poor peasants to oppose them to the peasants. kulaki monopoly of most agrarian production, going so far as to theorize (in March 1919) that "our revolution was largely a bourgeois revolution until the organization of poor peasant committees", which, however, were dissolved after revealing little effective in combating hunger. Historians, such as Jean-Jacques Marie, defended Lenin against the accusation of being a “mass shooter” by stating that many of the leader’s proposals were not to be taken literally (nor were they actually executed), but were, above all, pleas to the political firmness of Bolshevism and Soviet power against the enemies of the revolution, an affirmation that forgets that, in fact, Lenin was the head of state, possessing the pen capable of ordering executions.

It would not be possible to calculate the percentage of orders in this sense actually implemented, but remember that they were given under the double constraint of civil war, external intervention against Soviet power and, decisive factor, the famine that devastated Russian cities: the only numerical comparison that could be made is that the execution of one hundred landowners or kulaki to save hundreds of thousands of human beings from starvation, does not seem to be the product of the madness of a criminal despot, but a measure dictated by extreme conditions of misery and hunger within the framework of a social and national warlike confrontation. In the middle of the civil war, Lenin publicly criticized Béla Kun, whose unnecessary executions of white prisoners infuriated him: in punishment, Lenin sent the Hungarian leader on a mission to Turkestan.

As the civil war progressed, a significant number of prisoners, suspects and hostages were executed on the grounds that they belonged to the “enemy classes of the proletariat”. On March 16, 1919, the Cheka invaded the Putilov factory on strike: more than 900 workers were arrested, 65 were executed during the following days. And numerous strikes took place in the spring of 1919 in the cities of Tula, Oryol, Tver, Ivanovo and Astrakhan. The workers demanded food rations similar to those of the soldiers; some demanded the elimination of privileges for Soviet leaders, freedom of the press and free elections. All strikes were suppressed by the Cheka, often using extreme violence. Under pressure, the Soviet leaders, Lenin included, publicized the value of their salaries, which generally exceeded the average for workers, although not by much, and even the (thin) composition of their food rations.

During the civil war, the “white terror” of the counterrevolution murdered without mercy, openly manifesting its hatred against the revolution and its anti-Semitism, without any concern for legality and without hesitation.[xxxix] The Red Terror, and its instrument, the Czech, headed by the Bolshevik Félix Dzerzhinski, located above legal institutions (state or party) provoked more than one internal crisis: “The action of the Czech provoked opposition within the party. Some cadres were opposed in principle to the ongoing policy of terror, which dealt with suspects with 'administrative' rather than judicial means. Others opposed terror on humanitarian grounds, but their objections were dismissed as sentimental. Many feared that the Czech, increasingly independent and powerful, ended up forming a state within a state. There were also frequent conflicts between her and the Soviets local authorities, who did not accept the interference of a non-constitutional body in their functions”.[xl]

The “red terror”, according to Pierre Broué, included “blind reprisals, hostage takings and executions, sometimes prison massacres… a violence that was a response to white terror, its correlate. An orgy of blood, indeed. But the victims were incomparably less numerous than those of the civil war”.[xi] Until March 1920, the number of victims was officially fixed at 8.620 people; a contemporary observer estimated it at just over ten thousand victims.[xliii] Bolshevik policy seems to have been more one of channeling an existing tendency in the popular and revolutionary camp – making it an instrument of defense of the revolution – than the organization of indiscriminate revenge. The “white terror” of General Wrangel, still in 1921 recognized as the “legitimate government” of Russia by “democratic” France, claimed more victims than the “red”, not infrequently resorting to torture, the murder of children and the pogroms antisemites.

Karl Kautsky, transformed into a staunch opponent of Bolshevism, intended to judge negatively and at the same time “understand” the Red Terror: “Among the manifestations of Bolshevism, the terror, which begins with the abolition of freedom of the press and culminates with a system of firing en masse, it is the most striking and the most repugnant, the one that produced the most hatred against the Bolsheviks. However, we cannot blame them for their tragic fate, even considering that in mass historical phenomena one can speak of culpability, which is always personal”. In response, Leon Trotsky invoked the situation in which terror took place: “The rigor of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia was conditioned by critical circumstances. We had a continuous front from north to south, east to west. In addition to the counterrevolutionary armies of Kolchak, Denikin, etc., Soviet Russia was attacked by the Germans, Austrians, Czechoslovakians, Romanians, French, English, Americans, Japanese, Finns, Estonians and Lithuanians. In the interior of the country, blocked on all sides and consumed by hunger, there were incessant plots, uprisings, terrorist acts, destruction of depots, railways and bridges.[xiii]

The terror inventory was made by opponents of Soviet power: “When we speak of the repression that followed the peasant uprisings; when we speak of the execution of workers in Astrakhan or Perm, it is clear that this is not a specific 'class terror' against the bourgeoisie. The Terror was unleashed from the first days against all classes without exception and, above all, against the intellectuals, who form an independent class... de Herzen) because the reasons for the arrests are the most extraordinary”[xiv] (that is, arbitrary) stated an exiled Russian intellectual in one of the first texts denouncing the “Bolshevik terror”, widely disseminated in Western Europe, where its author made clear his opposition to any and all proletarian revolution. Mixing and adding deaths due to the civil war with executions (with or without trial) of a police-repressive nature, this author placed the victims of the “red terror” in the hundreds of thousands.

The international propaganda campaign against Bolshevism, however, was provoked by the physical elimination of the imperial family, including the children, daughters of the Tsar and Tsarina. As part of the Red Terror, Bolshevik officer Belobodorov took it upon himself to order the execution of the Tsar and his entire family in July 1918. The reason (to prevent the Tsar and his family, rescued from prison, was a point to regroup the reaction), the eventual justification (the crimes of the autocratic regime: the political trial of the Romanovs was one of the main popular demands after the February revolution) did not justify the murder of children, including the nobility. There were many doubts about the execution of the Romanovs, including that their execution was the work of left-wing SRs (the same ones who, as members of the Czech, assassinated the German ambassador to question the Peace of Brest Litovsk, signed by the Bolsheviks).

Investigators hostile to Bolshevism, blaming Lenin for the deed (it was, in fact, Lenin who issued the execution order), admit that he was concerned that the Tsar and his family would “suffer nothing” (but that they would be killed, given the approach of Bolshevism). of the “whites” to their place of imprisonment), at the same time that they accused the European aristocracy of having completely misunderstood the fate of their Russian relatives (there was a proposal by the Bolshevik government to negotiate the release of the imperial family, which had ties of blood with the English royal house, in exchange for the end of English military support to the Russian counterrevolution, rejected by the British monarchy).[xlv] Trotsky was laconic and discreet about the execution of the Romanovs: in his only reference to the matter, in his memoirs (drafted in the 1930s), he called the Tsar's children "innocent victims" of the crimes committed by the imperial family during his reign.

Ex-communist historian Dimitri Volkogonov lamented that the “whites” (the reaction) were not victorious in the civil war of 1918-1921: “In 1918, the majority of the Russian population rejected the Bolshevik revolution, but the Bolsheviks were victorious nonetheless. This is explained in part because their opponents did not have clear or compelling ideas, and why, in responding to the Red Terror with the White Terror, they alienated peasants and ordinary citizens as much as the Reds. In the summer of 1919, Kerensky, who was neither red nor white, told foreign journalists: 'There is no crime that Admiral Kolchak's whites would not commit. Executions and tortures were carried out in Siberia, the population of entire villages was flogged, including teachers and intellectuals'. The White Terror was as repugnant as the Red Terror, but with the big difference that it arose spontaneously from the grassroots and was local, while the Red Terror was exercised as an instrument of State policy, thus proving to be more effective”.[xlv] Thus, white terror would have been “democratic” (“grassroots”), yet reactionary, anti-Semitic, and supported by all foreign powers.

The Bolsheviks took over the policy of terror, which they organized themselves. In the words of Felix Dzherzhinski, the creator of the Cheka: “We represent organized terror ourselves – this must be made clear – and this terror is very necessary today in the conditions in which we are living, in an epoch of revolution. Our task is to fight the enemies of Soviet power. We are terrorizing the enemies of Soviet power in order to quell crimes from the beginning. (…) It is useless to blame ourselves for anonymous murders. Our commission has 18 experienced revolutionaries who represent the Central Committee of the Party and the Central Executive Committee (from soviets). An execution is only possible after the unanimous decision of all members of the commission in a plenary meeting. It suffices for a single member to speak out against the execution and the life of the accused is spared”. According to John Dziak, this statement was “clear nonsense”.[xlv] Using, among other methods, terror, the Bolsheviks won the civil war, destroying the internal reaction and imposing a new respect for the world bourgeoisie that, at the beginning of the conflict, believed in its imminent overthrow.

On October 15, 1919, one of the leaders of the Czech he stated that the "red terror" had officially ended, reporting that in Petrograd 800 suspected enemies had been shot and another 6.229 arrested. The actual figures were, of course, much higher. There are calculations that place the number of executions between ten thousand and fifteen thousand based on lists of people summarily executed, and there are those who conclude that “the number of executions by the Cheka in a few weeks was two to three times greater than the sentences of death imposed by the tsarist regime in 92 years”, a dubious percentage, insofar as the vast majority of deaths caused by the tsarist regime (starting with the pogroms antisemites) were never accompanied by any kind of judgment, legal sentence or accounting. soviet. The constitution of the Red Army also contributed to this, but it provided Soviet Russia with a strategic instrument, which ensured its survival in the face of enormous initial mishaps and international hostility, and became, in later decades, a military factor of international reach, as occurred in the second world war. In the context of the civil war, and due to his theoretical, political and organizational role in the creation and leadership of the Red Army, Trotsky's political stature reached a historic and international level.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History and Revolution (Shaman).


[I] Introduction. In: Nikolai Boukharin, Nikolai Ossinski, Karl Radek, Ivan Smirnov. La Revue Kommunist. Moscow, 1918: les communistes de gauche against le capitalisme d'État. Toulouse, Smolny, 2011; cf. also: La gauche communiste en Russie: 1918-1930. Revue Internationale, Vol. 19, No. 1, Paris, 1977.

[ii] Jacques Sadoul. Notes on the Bolshevik Revolution. Paris, François Maspero, 1972.

[iii] Raymond L. Garthoff. La Doctrine Militaire Soviétique. Paris, Plon, 1956.

[iv] Erich Wollenberg. the red army. Buenos Aires, Antidote, sdp.

[v] Robert L. Willet. Russian Sideshow. America's undeclared war 1918-1920. Washington, Brassey's, 2003.

[vi] Andre Marty. La Révolte de la Mer Noire. Paris, Editions Sociales, 1949.

[vii] Claude Pennetier. Les Mutins de la Mer Noire.

[viii] John Kim Munholland. The French army and intervention in Southern Russia, 1918-1919. Cahiers du Monde Russe et Soviétique vol. 22, nº 2,‎ Paris, 1981.

[ix]W Bruce Lincoln. Red Victory. A history of the Russian civil war. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1991.

[X] Isaac Babel. The Red Cavalry. Belo Horizonte, Book Workshop, 1989 [1924].

[xi] W Bruce Lincoln. Red Victory, cit.

[xii] Stephen Kotkin. Stalin. Paradoxes of power. London, Penguin Books, 2015.

[xiii] A condition that was far from being exclusive to Trotsky, but that he shared with several other leading cadres of Bolshevism, such as Lunacharsky, Rakovsky, Ryazanov, Ioffe. Trotsky was undoubtedly the best known and the one with the greatest political responsibility and hierarchy.

[xiv] Walter Duranty. USSR. The story of Soviet Russia. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1944.

[xv] Paul Avrich. Les Anarchistes Russes. Paris, Francois Maspero, 1979.

[xvi] Alexander Skirda. Les Cosaques de la Liberté. Nestor Makhno, le cosaque de l'Anarchie et la guerre civile russe 1917-1921. Paris, Jean-Claude Lattes, 1985.

[xvii] Nestor Makhno. Ma rencontre avec Lenin. Cahiers du Mouvement Ouvrier nº 18, Paris, September-October 2002.

[xviii] A problem that was far from over with the civil war: after it, Soviet power in Ukraine found itself systematically compressed between urban nationalism and “peasant anarchism”. The Ukrainian “Soviet power” practically did not understand Ukrainians by birth or nationality; was initially headed by a Romanian/Bulgarian, Christian Rakovsky (Janus Radziejowski. The Communist Party of Western Ukraine 1919-1929. Edmonton, University of Alberta, 1983). During World War II, there was an important Ukrainian anti-Nazi guerrilla with a nationalist base.

[xx] Nicolau Bruno de Almeida. Makhno, a libertarian Cossack. Moorish nº 12, São Paulo, January 2018.

[xx] Leon Trotsky. A lot of noise about Kronstadt. In: Gérard Bloch. Marxism and Anarchism, Sao Paulo, Kairós, 1981.

[xxx] Pierre Broue. Soviet Union. From revolution to collapse. Porto Alegre, UFRGS, 1996.

[xxiii] Jean Marabini. Russia during the October Revolution. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1989.

[xxiii] Peter (Piotr) Archinov. History of the Maknovist Movement (1918-1921). Buenos Aires, Argonaut, 1926.

[xxv] Jean-Jacques Marie. Histoire de la Guerre Civile Russe (1917-1922). Lonrai, Text, 2016.

[xxiv] Leon Trotsky. My Life. Paris, Gallimard, 1970.

[xxv] Richard Overy. 1939. Countdown to war. Rio de Janeiro, Record, 2009.

[xxviii] D. Fedotov White. The Red Army, Rio de Janeiro, O Cruzeiro, 1945.

[xxviii] Luiz Bernardo Pericas. Planning and Socialism in Soviet Russia: the First Ten Years. Text presented at the International Symposium “One Hundred Years that Shook the World”, Department of History (FFLCH), University of São Paulo, 2017.

[xxix] Nikolai Bukharin and Eugene Preobrazhensky. ABC of Communism. Coimbra, Spark, 1974.

[xxx] Helene Carrere d'Encausse. Lenin, la Révolution et le Pouvoir. Paris, Flammarion, 1979.

[xxxii] JP Nettl. Bill of the USSR. Paris, Seuil, 1967.

[xxxi] Edward H. Carr. The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923. Lisbon, Afrontamento, 1977, vol. 1.

[xxxii] Samuel Farber. Before Stalinism. The rise and fall of soviet democracy. London, Verse Books, 1990.

[xxxv] Stephen Cohen. Nicolas Boukharine. La vie d'un bolshevik. Paris, Francois Maspero, 1979.

[xxxiv] Vladimir I. Lenin. The immediate tasks of Soviet power. Questions of the Organization of the National Economy. Moscow, Progress, 1978.

[xxxiv] Thomas F. Remington. Building Socialism in Bolshevik Russia. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984.

[xxxviii] Jean-Jacques Marie. Soixantième anniversaire de la Révolution d'Octobre. Truth No. 579, Paris, December 1977.

[xxxviii] The use of the term “terrorism” dates back to the end of the XNUMXth century, during the Jacobin regime in the French Revolution, when it was used as an element of political coercion and classified for the first time in the dictionary as “the doctrine of the supporters of terror” (Mike Rapport. The French revolution and early European revolutionary terrorism.In: Randall D. Law. Routledge History of Terrorism. London, Routledge, 2015).

[xxxix] Jean-Jacques Marie. La Guerre des Russes Blancs. Paris, Tallandier, 2017.

[xl] SV Lipitsky. The civil War. Sao Paulo, Abril Cultural, 1968.

[xi] Pierre Broue. Soviet Union, cit.

[xliii] Albert Morizet. Chez Lenin et Trotsky. Paris, Renaissance du Livre, 1922.

[xiii]Karl Kautsky and Leon Trotsky. Terrorism and Communism. Madrid, Júcar, 1977.

[xiv] SP Melgounov. La Terreur Rouge in Russia (1918-1924). Paris, Payot, 1927. Sergei Petrovich Melgounov was a historian, member of the Russian Academic Union and leader of the small Populist Socialist Party, basically made up of intellectuals, who declared, while declaring his “love for democracy”, his opposition to any idea of "class struggle". Director of the party newspaper and academic journals, Melgounov was exiled from Soviet Russia in 1923, after testifying in the judicial process followed against the right-wing SRs for organizing attacks against Bolshevik leaders.

[xlv] A. Summers and T. Mangols. The Tsar's Dossier. Rio de Janeiro, Francisco Alves, 1978.

[xlv] Dimitri Volkogonov. Le Vrai Lenin. Paris, Robert Lafont, 1995.

[xlv] John J. Dziak. Checkisty. A history of the KGB. Lexington, DC Heath, 1988.

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