Victor Serge

Year One of the Russian Revolution

The Terror and the Will to Victory


A democratic government was being established in the Volga region under the protection of Czechoslovak bayonets. It was born at Samara on 8 June: the Czechoslovaks captured the town at dawn, and a committee of four S-R members of the Constituent Assembly (I. Brushvit, B. Fortunatov, V. Volsky and I. Nesterov) assumed power the same evening. In the name of the Constituent Assembly it proclaimed the dissolution of the Soviets and the restoration of democratic liberties. Meanwhile the Bolsheviks were being massacred in the streets. The Committee informed the local court-martial of the names of any person resisting the authorities. A State Security Department with extraordinary powers was set up on 9 August.

The S-R Constituent Assembly Committee assumed power in the towns of the Volga following in the train of the Czechoslovaks. Each town became, as it was captured, the scene of,a protracted massacre of Communists and suspects. ‘At Simbirsk, most of the Red soldiers captured in the town were shot. There was a real epidemic of lynchings,’ wrote the Vestnik (Monitor) of the Constituent Assembly Committee on 28 July. In Samara itself the Committee had to order an end to the summary executions ‘on pain of having to answer for these acts’ [sic]. This democratic government was reduced to begging the Czech commander in the town to protect the workers from the violence of reaction in their own districts. At Kazan, while the Czechoslovaks pursued the retreating Reds, men with weapons and white armbands roved the streets searching houses and arresting suspects; armed with previously prepared lists and led on by informers, they cut every ‘Bolshevik’ throat on the spot. For several days the streets were strewn with disfigured, undressed corpses. Any Reds found wounded were killed. Some of the bodies had their documents pinned to the chest: the title ‘commissar’ was displayed to explain why a man had his eyes poked out. After the passing of the first fury the reprisals go on, hardly less summary and not a whit less harsh. Class hatred is let off its leash. Each Red prisoner who walks the street, flanked by guards, is delivered to the rage of a well-dressed mob. ‘Young women slapped them and spat in their eyes. The corpses were trampled underfoot; the eyes of the dead were gouged out,’ writes one witness. The trial of any Bolshevik amounted to the formality of a brief interrogation before execution.

The old municipal institutions were born again, and the bourgeois newspapers reappeared with their announcements of the flight of Trotsky, the Allies’ irresistible intervention, the atrocities of the Chinese, Letts and Germans who made up the Red Army. The Metropolitan Bishop of Kazan summoned the faithful for the defence of the Church. The university placed itself patriotically at the disposal of the government. ‘The professors, the generals, the students and the old people of all classes are forming a militia so that the young men can go off to the front’ (Monitor of the Committee). The organization of a National Army was set going.

Russia’s gold reserves, which were deposited at Kazan, had fallen into the hands of the counter-revolution, and were to pro-vide a financial base for its cause over a long period. These reserves came to 657 million gold roubles (6,500 million roubles of the existing currency) and 100 million in banknotes, plus ‘an enormous hoard of securities and stocks of gold and platinum’. [1]

The Constituent Assembly Committee passed decrees ratifying the nationalization of the land and the expropriation of the big landlords, but restored to their former owners all industrial enter-prises that had been nationalized, municipalized or seized. It took vigorous measures to organize the bourgeois classes, and abolished workers’ control over production. Its programme can be summarized in a few words: neither a monarchist reaction nor Socialist experiments; restoration of bourgeois democracy.

The foreign policy of the Constituent Assembly Committee is already sufficiently known to us through a letter from M. Stephen Pichon to Vedenyapin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs at Samara [2]; it also formed the subject of negotiations between Timofeyev, a member of the S-R party’s Central Committee, and the French agents, Charles Dumas and Ehrlich. Military operations assumed more importance. Commander Alphonse Guinet, of the French Military Mission, was influencing the Czechoslovak National Council; it was he who advised a quickening of the offensive against Simbirsk, Kazan and Saratov in order to give assistance to the Allied effort. Another French officer, Captain Condot [3], paid a visit to Simbirsk for the purpose of hastening the capture of Kazan. In the eyes of the Allies, the Constituent Assembly Committee was the embryo of Russia’s future national government.

What were the social forces on which the Committee relied? The Menshevik Maisky, a former member of this government of democratic counter-revolution, has drawn a precise. portrait on this point. The hostility of the working class towards the Committee was so great that the latter’s attempt to create a docile ‘Soviet’ with Menshevik assistance collapsed miserably, with the ‘Soviet’ promptly passing a Bolshevik resolution. Mobilization was a dismal failure in the countryside. It got together scarcely 15,000 men, who had to be put away in barracks under the guard of White officers, instead of the 50,000 expected to respond to the appeal. These units, formed of young peasants dragged by force from their own villages, were quite unreliable. Sometimes they surrendered to the Reds after tying up their own officers. Only the petty-bourgeoisie gave a rapturous reception to the new government; however, its democratic fancies, its attachment to the Republic and the Red Flag (which the ‘Socialist-Revolutionaries’ still flew on public buildings) very quickly upset the officers, who were mostly monarchists, the liberal industrialists and the clergy. The bourgeoisie, which hankered for some kind of military dictatorship, began to view democratic illusions more and more as a watered-down variety of Bolshevism. It was waiting for its own moment. [4]


Little by little, more and more completely, the class war enveloped the whole of the countryside. The kulaks hid the grain, sounded the alarm when the food brigades approached, sometimes engaged in standing battles, but more often stole out at night to murder the workers who had come looking for grain. The poor peasants formed committees which worked as a substitute for the food supply organization, and conducted requisitionings themselves. In the smallest villages, a war to the death flared up around the corn. There were interventions by Red troops. The newspapers were full of reports of this kind:

Smirnovo district, Orel gubernia. When a detachment of Red soldiers came to take the grain, the kulaks raised loud shouts of ‘By what right do you come to take what you have not sown?’ It was impossible to persuade them. They fired upon the brigade, killing the commissar and several soldiers. The Provincial Executive sent along a strong detachment accompanied by armoured cars. The kulaks have been taught a good lesson [21 August].

There were incidents of priests refusing burial to those who were assailing the property of the Church. At Livny, not far from Orel, a whole district rose in rebellion, with more than 300 counter-revolutionaries killed in the struggle and the subsequent repression (20-23 August).

In the cities the famine was dreadful. Often the food services had to distribute raw grain instead of bread. When there was bread it came mixed with straw and various assorted grains. Private bakeries were closed, and the prices of all foodstuffs and manufactured goods were fixed by decree. Nevertheless the population was forced to resort to speculation with its high prices (which, though illegal, took place openly in the squares occupied by the huge standing markets, sometimes surrounded by squads of soldiers ready to carry out summary confiscations). Increasingly barter replaced commerce in the stricter sense, and payment in kind eliminated the use of paper money. The Krasnaya Gazeta of Petrograd discussed the problem of the fuel which the city needed but could not pay for, and noted: ‘We have stocks of copper which we can give [to foreign buyers] in exchange for coal ... (issue of 1 August). The towns continued to empty. The wealthy converted their riches into diamonds or foreign banknotes, acquired on the black market, and crossed the frontier, a journey not without risks. Anybody who could move into the countryside did so, lured by the presence of grain there. The population of Petrograd fell from 2,319,000 on 1 November 1915 to 1,480,000 on 1 July 1918, and continued to decline with great rapidity. [5]

Among the populace, hatred simmered and brooded. The Council of People’s Commissars decreed that anti-semitism was ‘outlawed’. Whole groups of counter-revolutionaries (chiefly officers), corrupt officials and bandits were being shot, five, ten or fifteen at a time, with increasing frequency. It was not yet the terror: only its unmistakable prelude. At night the towns slept under a suffocating darkness of ambush and conspiracies. The commanders of the Petrograd garrison had to issue a special order to their troops instructing them to ‘be economical with the ammunition’: for the night patrols were firing in utter confusion in the darkened streets (17 August).

The population of the factories and workshops was enlisted in the detachments of the food brigades and the Red Army. Often the Soviets introduced compulsory labour for the bourgeoisie on public-works projects. On 3 August, Kuzmin, Press Commissar of the Northern Commune (of Petrograd) suppressed all bourgeois publications, in a departmental minute of three lines: some were still being published up till then. The Cheka announced that food saboteurs would be ‘ruthlessly annihilated’. On 24 August a decree was issued abolishing private property in housing in all cities.

It is difficult to catalogue the various counter-revolutionary organizations unmasked and promptly destroyed by the Cheka (which wasted no time in any profound analysis of their nature). The case of the Polish legionaries, for instance, ended with 600 or so arrests at Vologda. To this town the French Military Mission had dispatched, and equipped with French documents, counter-revolutionaries of Polish origin who were supposed to be members of a Polish Corps then in formation. Two large organizations, mainly composed of officers, were uncovered: one devoted to the disorganization of transport, similar to Savinkov’s apparatus, with which it was doubtless linked; the other consisting of Constitutional-Democrats, i.e. an agency of the liberal bourgeoisie. There were 150 arrests in Moscow. The Cheka proceeded noiselessly. These cases, which were scarcely mentioned in the press – if at all – were snuffed out in darkness. Actual executions, however, were still exceptional.

Eventually Zinoviev, as Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Northern Commune, published a warning that enemies of the Republic would from now on be executed. Counter-revolutionary agitation, incitement of Red soldiers to disobedience, the giving of assistance to the Whites or the foreign powers, espionage, corruption, pogroms, thefts, banditry, sabotage and ‘other crimes’ would be ‘immediately punished by death’. The Cheka would conduct the shootings, and the names of those shot would be communicated to the press (18 August). No preliminary trial was envisaged in these rules; the list of crimes was so long and vague that the redoubtable Commission actually enjoyed unlimited power. The weapon of the terror is now ready; but it will be used by the revolution only after the attempts at assassination that are at the moment being planned.

The return of L. Kamenev to Russia shattered any remaining illusions, if any still lingered, on the attitude of the Great Powers to the revolution. Kamenev had left for western Europe in April, charged by the Communist Party Central Committee with the task of informing Western Socialists and public opinion of the truth about the Soviets, and doubtless too with the opening of official negotiations with the governments. He was surrounded by spies wherever he went, and assailed with slanders in the European press; France had refused him entry and Britain had expelled him. On his return the Whites of Finland had kept him in prison for several months. He came back now, to tell the proletarians of Russia: ‘Comrades, we are alone.’ (Speech to the Petrograd Soviet, 7 August.)

The Republic, too, now changed its tone towards the foreign powers. An appeal, under the signatures of Lenin, Chicherin and Trotsky, went out to the workers of France, Britain, America, Italy and Japan, exhorting them to stop the intervention:

If the Allies wish to help us in our sacred task of resistance, let them assist us in restoring our railways and our economic life, for a weak Russia is in no position to defend itself. But the Allies have not replied to our appeals. All they think of is to make us pay back the interest on the loans assigned in other times by French capital to Tsarism to lead it into the war, for which the Russian people has already paid in rivers of blood and in heaps of corpses.

Too long we have tolerated the impudent insults of the representatives of imperialism and permitted to remain in Russia those who not long ago licked the boots of Tsarism ... We have taken no reprisals against them, even though their hand in the conspiracies was clearly visible ...

The Ukraine, still occupied by the Germans, at this juncture became a blazing furnace. A Left S-R terrorist, Boris Donskoi, shot Field-Marshal Eichhorn at Kiev on 30 July. From the middle of July till the middle of August, the railway workers struggled against the invader through strikes and acts of sabotage. German railwaymen had to be imported in order to keep the main lines open. On 7 August the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Ukraine, a clandestine body naturally, declared war upon Hetman Skoropadsky and the occupying forces. Peasant risings burst out simultaneously everywhere. The regions of Poltava, Kiev, Chernigov, Ekaterinoslav were ablaze with war. An anarchist school-master and former political prisoner, named Nestor Makhno, opened up guerrilla warfare at Gulai-Polye, with fifteen men at his side; these attacked German sentries to obtain weapons. Later on, Makhno was to form whole armies. [6] The Germans repressed these movements with the utmost vigour, executing prisoners en masse and burning down villages; but it was all too much for them.


With the Republic surrounded, starving and infested with conspiracies, it remained to deal a decisive blow at its head. The role of the proletariat’s true leaders is crucial precisely because they cannot be replaced. Personal merit, authority, influence, all are historical products formed by the working class with the assistance of time and of the events for which nothing can substitute. The dominant classes which have attained a high degree of culture are in a position, during their periods of good fortune, to create in large quantities the leaders that they require. Whereas the working class, given its present state of oppression and lack of culture, can make up for the absence or the death of its leaders only by political organization. This is one of the grave problems confronting it in periods of crisis. The German working-class movement has still, after ten years, failed to find a replacement for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. It remained, then, to strike down the revolution in the person of its leaders. The terrorist traditions of the Right S-R party were awakening persistent initiatives in this direction. The S-R Central Committee, it is true, had declared that individual assassinations were impermissible now that Tsardom had fallen; but, following on the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, the Brest-Litovsk treaty and the pressure of the Allies, the mentality and the politics of the party had undergone a profound change. Meeting from 7 to 14 May, the Eighth National Council of the S-R party had solemnly approved the principle of foreign intervention in Russia, in terms that were scarcely modulated even by hypocrisy:

Considering that the policies of the Bolshevik government threaten the very independence of Russia, this Eighth S-R Party National Council is of the opinion that this danger can be removed only by the immediate liquidation of the Bolshevik government and the transfer of authority to a legitimate government elected by universal suffrage ... Such a government could permit, for purely strategic purposes, the entry of Allied troops on to Russian territory, on condition that non-interference by the foreign powers in Russian domestic affairs and the territorial integrity of the country were guaranteed ...

This amounted to yet one more statement, sufficiently clear in its own terms, that against the Bolsheviks all means are good. The terrorist’s Browning automatic is not so different as it may seem from the aeroplane of the Czechoslovaks.

There existed at Petrograd an S-R ‘Battle Organization’, a small compactly organized terrorist group. This group remained some-what independent of the Central Committee, which reserved the right to disavow it if the necessity arose; it kept a close watch on Uritsky and Zinoviev, ready to put them out of the way; it had already assassinated the tribune Volodarsky. The chief of the group was K.I. Semyonov who later, in 1921, was to cross over to Bolshevism and shed a clear light on the terrorist activities of his old party. The terrorists – there were about ten of them – grouped themselves in Moscow in order to make simultaneous preparations for the assassination of Lenin and Trotsky. They divided Moscow into four sectors; in each of these one observer and one executioner, assiduous in their attendance of the public meetings at which Lenin spoke on Fridays, waited for the opportunity to shoot him. This surveillance lasted about five weeks. The executioners consisted of two women, Konopleva and Kaplan, and two workers, Ussov and Kozlov. This last pair both encountered Lenin and lost their nerve. ‘I faltered,’ Ussov recounted later, ‘I had lost my faith; I had to leave the organization.’

On 30 August, as on the preceding Fridays, terrorists waited for Lenin at all the big workers’ meetings. Novikov, an old S-R worker, who had been posted outside the Michelson works, saw him arrive; the terrorist Fanny Kaplan, a former anarchist, was in the hall armed with a pistol, whose bullets Semyonov, the group leader, had tried to poison. Lenin arrived alone; no one escorted him and no one formed a reception party. When he came out, workers surrounded him for a moment a few paces from his car. It was at this moment that Fanny Kaplan fired at him, three times, wounding him seriously in the neck and shoulder. Lenin was driven back to the Kremlin by his chauffeur, and just had the strength to walk upstairs in silence to the second floor: then he fell in pain. There was great anxiety for him: the wound in the neck could have proved extremely serious; for a while it was thought that he was dying. The wounded man’s own strength carried him through. Lenin was back on his feet in around ten days.

Five days later, the S-R party’s Central Committee declared that it was ‘completely dissociated’ from the attempt. (It had made a similar declaration after the murder of Volodarsky.) This disavowal, which was evidently impelled by the fear of terrible reprisals and by the party’s awareness of its unpopularity, had a most distressing effect upon the terrorists themselves: the party’s tradition was one of claiming and glorifying the attempts committed by its Battle Organization. ’We were going to our death,’ one of them said, ‘in the name of the Central Committee, and the Central Committee was disowning us!’ So shameless was the duplicity of the S-R leaders, Gotz and Donskoi, that at the very hour when they were drafting this repudiation their men were preparing to derail Trotsky’s train. They believed that the disappearance of the Red Army’s leader would cause the total collapse of the front. Watch was kept for Trotsky near the Kremlin, the War Commissariat and the military departments. Five agents, with the task of blowing up his train, went on a technical course prepared for them by an experienced terrorist. Trotsky was to leave for the front on the 6th. Two terrorists, one of them a woman, waited for him at the station: if he escaped their bullets, Helena Ivanova was to make sure that his carriage blew up. All night long she waited in vain on the line to Kazan. Trotsky had gone by the Nizhni-Novgorod line.

Both capitals came into the scheme together. On the very day that Lenin fell in Moscow, the President of the Petrograd Cheka, Moise Salomonovich Uritsky, [7] was killed by Kanegisser, an S-R student, who tried to seek refuge in the British Club. Kanegisser was a member of the People’s Socialist party, which was even more Right-wing than the S-Rs proper. Did these actions have any direct links with the forces of foreign intervention? Pierre Pascal, who was in charge of coding at the French Military Mission, reports: ‘I personally deciphered a telegram which had to do with the use of terrorism. I declare categorically that the French Military Mission encouraged the acts of assassination that were committed in Russia.’  [8] We shall see shortly how, for their part, British agents were making preparations to have Lenin and Trotsky put out of the way. Finally, Savinkov declares that the agents of the Czechoslovak National Council, who kept him supplied with funds, wanted him to spend the money in organizing terrorist attempts.


Coming at such a moment, these simultaneous outrages could not fail to provoke a terrible wave of fury in the party and the proletariat. The feeling was that the moment of reckoning had now come in which the revolution had no alternative but to destroy or be destroyed. Before the enemy from abroad could be subdued, it was necessary to vanquish the enemy that lay within. The Krasnaya Gazeta of Petrograd wrote:

Now it is the time for our turn ... We used to say that we would answer the death of one with the death of a thousand: now we are obliged to act. Out of the way with the sentimentalists who are afraid to shed innocent blood! What bourgeois does not have on his conscience the ruined lives of working-class women and children? There are no innocents among them. Each drop of Lenin’s blood must be paid for by the bourgeoisie and the Whites in hundreds of deaths ... The interests of the revolution demand the physical extermination of the bourgeoisie. They have no pity: it is time for us to be pitiless [31 August].

The same article emphasized that only those representatives of the bourgeois classes who had shown positive loyalty towards the régime deserved any mercy. Another editorial in this journal, on the same evening, went on:

Blood for blood! But no, we are not going to have a massacre, in which individuals hostile to the bourgeoisie might be killed and real enemies of the people would get away. It will be in an organized manner that we shall seek out the bourgeoisie, the well-fed ones and their hirelings ...

To organize the terror means to limit it.

On 2 September, as the Cheka is carrying out its summary executions, the Soviet government, determined to take decisive steps against the foreign intervention, has the British Missions raided and the British charge d’affaires, Lockhart, arrested. The Anglo-French conspiracy is thus summarily unmasked. A proclamation from Vee-Tsik converts the country into an armed camp whose defence is entrusted to a Revolutionary War Council headed by Trotsky. (We shall use the terms ‘Revolutionary Council of the Army’ and ‘Revolutionary War Council’ interchangeably, since both are accurate translations-readers will have to remember that only one organization lies behind these two names.) On the next day, Red terror is instituted in a decree signed by Petrovsky, People’s Commissar of the Interior. Up till now (the order runs) the Soviets have taken only minor reprisals against the massacres of proletarians in Finland, the Ukraine and the Czech-occupied areas.

An end to this clemency and slackness! All Right S-Rs known to the local Soviets are to be arrested immediately. From among the bourgeoisie and the officers, large numbers of hostages are to be seized. At the least sign of White-Guard resistance or activity mass shootings are to be the rule, without further discussion. Provincial Executive Commit-tees must take the initiative along these lines ... These measures are to be instituted at once: the Commissariat is to be informed immediately of any local authorities who drag their feet in these matters.

On 7 September the Cheka of Petrograd announced that 512 counter-revolutionaries had been shot, including ten Right S-Rs. Several days later the Petrograd newspapers appeared carrying interminable lists of the names of hostages: Grand Dukes, aristocrats, officers of all ranks, Right-wing journalists, financiers, industrialists, merchants, between five and six hundred in all, had been arrested in this way. At Kronstadt, 500 counter-revolutionaries were shot, according to an oral report delivered in mid-September at the Northern Commune Conference of Extraordinary Commissions. Executions were much fewer in Moscow, where lists of those shot were released to the public. In the first ten days of the terror there were around sixty executions: several Grand Dukes, the former Ministers Khvostov, Protopopov, Shcheglovitov and N.A. Maklakov, some officers and ex-policemen, a blackmailer and a lawyer charged with possession of weapons.

It is difficult to come by even an approximate picture of the scale of Red terror in the provinces. Information of a highly fragmentary, almost random character was available in the news-papers. At Perm, we learn that fifty hostages were shot, followed by another thirty-six; at Tver, nothing happened except the imprisonment of 150 hostages; from Penza, where one nobleman and some officers were shot in the first days, a telegram came on 25 September: ‘The murder of the worker Yegorov has been avenged by 152 lives.’ From Kostroma they wrote that seven Whites had been executed and that ‘the big bourgeoisie is in our power and we are keeping them busy cleaning the barracks’. At Nizhni-Novgorod, forty-one priests, officers, policemen and capitalists were killed; at Orlov (near Viatka) twenty-three; at Shui, eight; at Kursk, nine. The Cheka of a little place called Kirma sent Moscow a list of ‘twelve counter-revolutionaries, bandits, thieves and defrauders who have been executed’. At Ivanovo-Voznesensk, a large textile centre, 184 hostages were arrested and a concentration camp was established, but only a small number of executions took place.

After 5 September, the party made visible efforts to moderate the terror. Petrograd’s Krasnaya Gazeta wrote: ‘The bourgeoisie has been taught a cruel lesson ... Let our enemies leave us in peace to build a new life. If they do so, we shall ignore their simmering hatred and stop hunting them out. The Red terror is over, until the White terror begins again. The destiny of the bourgeoisie is in its own hands.’ On the following day it asked: ‘Are the White Guards going to risk the heads of their hostages? The front at home has been secured, the bourgeoisie is terrorized, its fighting organizations are destroyed, its plots revealed, its plotters punished ... From now on, let us deal with the military front.’ But in fact, these September days, so reminiscent of their parallel in the French Revolution, mark – like their predecessor, and for similar reasons – the inauguration of the era of the terror.


The Vee-Cheka had known for some while that the threads of all the counter-revolutionary conspiracies could be traced back to the foreign Missions stationed in Russia. On the very day of Uritsky’s murder it raided the British Consulate at Petrograd. There were some bloody incidents; Captain Cromie resisted and was killed [9], one Cheka agent was killed and two were wounded. As a result, several counter-revolutionaries who had taken refuge at the Consulate were arrested, and arms and documents were seized. The British charge d’affaires in Moscow, Lockhart [10], was closely watched over a period of some weeks, even in his most secret activities. Like most foreign observers, he was principally interested in the Red Army squadrons whose formation was then under way, and most of all in the Lettish contingents, whose qualities of discipline and organization were exceptional. Lockhart established contact with a Lettish officer, whom he introduced to Grenard, the French Consul, and to Lieutenant Sidney Reilly – all without suspecting that he had landed himself with a Red counter-espionage agent. The Vee-Cheka was thus admirably informed from the beginning. Organizations for espionage and counter-revolution existed in both the capitals. Two officers, the Englishman Reilly and the Frenchman de Vertemont, together with an individual named Kalamatiano [11], were put in charge of the operations in Russia that were to be set in hand after the Military Missions had left. There were plans for the occupation of Vologda and for a coup in Moscow in the middle of September. The People’s Commissars were to be arrested in the Kremlin during one of their Council meetings. Reilly, who was well-informed on the Commissars’ mode of working, laid special importance on the simultaneous arrest of Lenin and Trotsky, and was confident that he could bribe the Kremlin guard. (Lieutenant Sidney Reilly was to be shot on the territory of the Soviet Union in 1928.) After their arrest, the two leaders of the revolution were to be conveyed immediately to Archangel, ‘although [as Reilly added] the safest thing would be to shoot them on the spot’. [12] Mr Lockhart transmitted sums of money to Red officers on various occasions, to a total of 1,200,000 roubles; he also supplied them with false papers with the heading and seal of the British Mission. [13]

Explosives, lists of conspirators and military documents were discovered by the Red authorities, who also learnt that the British and French were planning to destroy two bridges in order to cut off Petrograd’s food supply. On the night of 31 August-1 September, the Vee-Cheka raided a clandestine meeting. Among those picked up was an Englishman who at first refused to disclose his name: it was Mr Lockhart. He was released shortly after, but a few days later was interned again in the Kremlin, where he was treated with such consideration that he made a special point of thanking Peters, one of the members of the Extraordinary Commission. General Lavergne and Consul Grenard only escaped arrest by taking refuge in the Norwegian Legation, which was kept under the strictest surveillance by the Reds. At this moment Litvinov and some other Bolsheviks were being detained in Britain and France; the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs successfully proposed an exchange of prisoners.

The press of the whole world ran indignant commentaries on the Bolsheviks’ criminal assaults against the sacred diplomatic rights of extra-territoriality and immunity. The Bolsheviks had put themselves ‘ outside the code of civilization’. The governments of London and Paris threatened to take reprisals against any Bolsheviks who fell into their hands. Nevertheless, on Soviet territory the conspiracy of the Powers was defeated. [14]


The fate of the revolution was being decided at this very time at a small, obscure railway station, about forty miles from Kazan on the route from Moscow. There the victorious advance of the Czechs and the Whites was halted against a line of pathetic, hastily dug trenches, behind which stood nothing but a will of iron. On 8 August, with the eastern front in complete disarray, Trotsky’s special train left for Kazan, carrying nearly 200 Communists picked from the most determined cadres. The train journeyed slowly, since it had to smash the resistance of the railway workers in its path. The line was so insecure that the passengers, who were organized on a strict military discipline, were put on the alert several times. The Whites had just captured Kazan; some Red regiments of comparatively recent formation had been betrayed by their officers and disintegrated before the enemy. The chaos among the Reds had almost resulted in the capture by the Whites of Vatsetis, the commander-in-chief of the whole front. With a handful of men to support him, he managed to clear a path for himself among the fugitives and the pursuers. What now remained of the Soviet forces hung on to the little station of Sviazhsk, on the bank of the Volga. It was here that Trotsky’s train stopped. Its locomotive drove off, and in the decrepit yard nothing was left but this group of carriages that held the staff headquarters, the revolutionary tribunal and all the departments of an army that did not yet exist. (This train of Trotsky’s was to become legendary. It was to be seen over the next four years on all the fronts, with the Revolutionary Army Council holding permanent session there; its carriages were fortified by armour-plate or sacks of earth, and equipped with machine-guns and a cannon. However, the train at Sviazhsk at this time lacked organization and equipment of this kind.) Another train followed, ‘manned by three hundred cavalry-men, along with an aeroplane, a garage-truck for five cars, a radio-telegraph office, a print-shop and a tribunal: in short, a small military settlement’. [15]

Sviazhsk barred the Czechoslovaks’ access to the river-bed road to Nizhni-Novgorod and the railway line from Kazan to Moscow. Its defenders knew it was the key to central Russia, the final bastion for which they must be prepared to die to the last man.

Those who slept on the station floor, in straw strewn with broken glass, were afraid of nothing, and almost past any hope of victory. No-body wanted to know when the business would be over ... Each hour of life had the fullness and freshness of some miracle. A plane came to drop bombs on the station; the sickening bark of machine-guns came nearer, and then went away again, as did the murmuring voice of the big guns; and the soldier in his ragged cape, with a floppy old hat on his head and worn-out boots -this was the image of the defender of Sviazhsk – would consult his watch with a grin and say to himself: ‘At 0300 hours, or at 0400 hours, or at 0620 hours, I am still alive, then ... Sviazhsk is holding on. Trotsky’s train is over there, with a lamp shining in the window of the Political Department. Another day over.’ There were practically no medicines, heaven knows how the doctors managed to dress wounds. The misery of our situation banished shame and fear; as the soldiers went to get their soup, they passed before the dead and the wounded lying in the open on their stretchers. Then came the rainy days of August. Our thin, badly armed lines never yielded at any point, the bridge stayed under our control, and the reinforcements began to arrive from the rear. [16]

Communications were now restored.

Trotsky’s organizing genius now became apparent: across railways that were openly sabotaged he could get to Sviazhsk not only fresh artillery but everything that was needed for resistance and for offensive. This, it should be noted, was in 1918, in a period when the excitement of demobilization was still strong, when the sight of a squad of well-dressed soldiers walking in the streets of Moscow would cause a sensation. To do this was to beat back the current, to fight against the weariness of four years of war, and against the stormy waters of the revolution itself, which over the whole country was sweeping aside the old hated discipline like so much flotsam ... Against all odds, the rations, the newspapers, the boots and the capes reached us.

What sort of men were the defenders of Sviazhsk?

Suddenly around Rosengoltz, there in his carriage, maps and typewriters seemed to shoot up from God knows where: the offices of the Revolutionary War Council had arrived. Rosengoltz set himself about building a powerful organizing apparatus, along lines of geometrical exactitude, its branches precisely defined. A simple, indefatigable character, Rosengoltz (despite the huge pistol that hung from his belt) had nothing at all martial either in his bearing or in his pale, rather gentle face. The great strength he emanated came from his personal capacity to regenerate, to reorganize, to rouse the circulation of a sluggish bloodstream to a feverish pace ...

Ivan Nikitich Smirnov (an old Bolshevik from Siberia and a former worker) was the Communist conscience of Sviazhsk. [17] Even among the non-party soldiers, and among Communists who had not known him before, his absolute honesty and correctness were instantly recognized. It is likely that he never realized how he was feared, how men were afraid to be found cowardly and weak before him of all men, before this man who never raised his voice and was content to be simply himself, calm and courageous ... We knew that in the worst moments of danger he would be the bravest, the most fearless. At Trotsky’s side we could die in battle with the last cartridge gone, oblivious of our wounds; for Trotsky incarnated the holy demagogy of battle, with words and gestures summoning up the most heroic pages of the French Revolution’s history. But with Smirnov beside us we could feel calm and clear-headed when we were right up against the wall, facing interrogation by the Whites in some hell-hole of a prison. That is what we used to whisper among ourselves on those nights of a quick-freezing autumn, lying jumbled in our heaps over the station floor.

These sketches by a woman fighter from Sviazhsk have seemed worth quoting: they sum up a whole spirit. A personal calibre and a moral nobility of this level makes men invincible; and it is the privilege of the greatest causes to raise men precisely to this level.

Little by little, faith in victory, against an enemy who had been enormously superior in numbers, arms and organization, began to crystallize: we could capture Kazan again! Fresh troops were arriving; a small airfield was laid down, though the aircraft at its disposal numbered only a squadron. The enemy began to realize that a force was being assembled at Sviazhsk that might soon prove formidable. The White attacks were regularly beaten back. Then two of the most remarkable leaders of the counter-revolution, Savinkov and a talented young strategist named Kappel, who was later to be killed in Siberia after ferocious battles, conceived an audacious plan of taking Sviazhsk by surprise. The Whites made an extended circling manoeuvre, cutting the line to Moscow, and marched on Sviazhsk from behind. An armoured train mounted with naval guns was sent to intercept them, but being badly commanded it was captured and burnt. The enemy was now less than six miles from Sviazhsk, cutting off any retreat overland.

Panic now seized the Red forces. The army’s Political Department thought only of ensuring its own speedy evacuation along the Volga. A regiment which held the front by the river broke and scattered in flight; commanders and commissars headed the rout. These mobs of deserters invaded the ships of the Volga flotilla. The disarray seemed to be total. All that remained at Sviazhsk consisted of the offices of the Fifth Army’s headquarters, Trotsky’s train and the staff in charge of the stores.

Leon Davidovich mobilized the entire manpower of the train, office-boys, telegraphists, ambulance-men, in short anyone who could hold a rifle. These were about five hundred men; the Whites numbered double this. The offices were emptied, the rearguard no longer existed. Everything was thrown into the battle against the Whites. The whole of the road down to the first houses in Sviazhsk was ripped up by shellfire. The battle lasted for several hours. The Whites thought they were up against some formation of fresh, highly organized troops that their intelligence services did not know about.

Wearied after a forced march of forty-eight hours, they exaggerated the strength of their opponents, not realizing that what faced them was no more than a handful of improvised troops who had only Trotsky and Slavin (an old officer who commanded the Fifth Army) at the back of them. They drew back. In order to make it quite clear that his troops were there to stay, Trotsky had deliberately omitted to have a locomotive coupled to his train. The bulk of the Fifth Army, numbering some 10,000 men, was gathering in front of Sviazhsk and on the further bank of the Volga for the offensive against Kazan. If Sviazhsk had been lost the result would quite possibly have been the destruction of this army.

The decisive effect of the victory of Sviazhsk was consolidated on the following day by a further exploit. A number of small torpedo-boats had been brought from Kronstadt along the canals, to form the Red Volga flotilla under the command of Raskolnikov, a young Bolshevik naval officer, and Markin, who was to die a hero’s death. Trotsky and Raskolnikov had concocted a scheme of extraordinary daring: to burn the enemy’s small fleet, which was anchored at Kazan. The Red flotilla sailed down the Volga in the depth of night, with all lights doused. The torpedo-boat carrying Trotsky and Raskolnikov was the only one that succeeded in passing the narrow entrance to Kazan harbour. With her rudder broken, the boat was for a moment in fantastic danger, caught against the side of an enemy vessel. The whole of the White flotilla was set in flames; the Reds retired without losses.


On the following day, twenty-seven Communists who had yielded to the panic and taken flight were tried and shot. Several of them were old militants. A measure of this extreme severity was undoubtedly necessary.

The whole army [writes Larissa Reissner] was saying that the Communists were cowards, that they were exempt from the law, that they could desert and get away with it ... Without the extraordinary gallantry displayed by Trotsky, the commander-in-chief and the members of the Revolutionary War Council, the prestige of the Communists working in the army would have been finished for a long time.

The Communists were the heart and soul of the army.

This ruthlessness was no novelty. Over the twenty-five days that Trotsky’s train had been at Sviazhsk, revolutionary enthusiasm, or more exactly fanaticism, had been waging a merciless struggle against indiscipline and disorder. On 14 August Trotsky published the ’following order:

I learn that the detachment of partisans from Petrograd has deserted its positions.

I have ordered Commissar Rosengoltz to investigate the facts of the matter.

The soldiers of the Red Army of Workers and Peasants are neither cowards nor scum. They want to fight for the liberty and happiness of the toiling people. If they retreat or fight badly, it is the fault of their commanders and commissars.

I give a warning: if a unit retreats, first the commissar will be shot, then the commander.

Courageous soldiers will be rewarded according to their merits and will be given commissions.

Cowards, profiteers and traitors will not escape bullets.

I answer for this pledge before the whole Red Army.

The Petrograd partisans, who had perhaps imagined that their status as volunteers from the capital would give them some indulgence, were sternly dealt with by a military tribunal: several dozen of them were sent to their deaths.

No army on active service has ever avoided measures of such rigour: war has always forced men to stand between the bullets of the enemy and the bullets of their comrades if ever through faint-heartedness they become the enemy’s allies. The collective’s instinct for self-preservation needs this iron law in order to vanquish the individual’s identical instinct. And so these actions require no comment. At the very most we are bound to emphasize once again the nature of the conditions in which the discipline of the Red Army was forged. At the beginning of his stay in Sviazhsk, Trotsky had to draft a long document in order to have a few typewriters sent across to his headquarters. On 19 August, he addressed a long reproof to the sailors of the Red flotilla:

When I paid a visit yesterday to the Flotilla headquarters, I was dumbfounded by the spectacle that was presented to my eyes. The boat is full of strangers, but nobody is there to check passes – these indeed do not even exist. Anyone who pleases can go in. It is impossible to tell who is in charge of the vessel, or to know who runs the communications section. Men are sent out to various places and nobody knows who sent them ... When they go off they leave their dinghies abandoned for someone else to collect. No organization, no sense of responsibility. There are numerous women and children on board. No practical work is possible in these conditions. No military secrets can be kept. I have seen Commissar Markin with a mechanic who did not know how to start an engine.’ ‘It’s always the same,’ Markin said. ‘When we have to retire to the rear the engines work perfectly; when we have to advance to the line of fire the engines go on strike!’ Comrade sailors! This state of affairs cannot go on ... Let us think of the position of the country. If we capture Kazan we will have breached the enemy front, Simbirsk and Samara will simply fall into our hands ... [This persuasive argument ended with these words:] Everything must be set going militarily. Do not yield an inch of ground. Take from the enemy every inch you can manage. Take the offensive boldly and courageously. He who risks nothing always possesses nothing. I shake you fraternally by the hands, comrade sailors!

The leader who used this language and signed orders of the strictest inflexibility had to expose himself to fire, with his men, from time to time, in the front rank. This builder of an army worked his way through persuasion, through example and through rigour.

His inward certainty of victory gave him a self-assurance that could be terrible. In towns occupied by the enemy he had Notices of Warning scattered in the following terms:

Citizens of towns which are temporarily captured by the White Czech forces remain subject to the laws of the Soviet Republic.

No person has the right to invoke the duress of the invaders to justify acts of treason committed against the power of the workers and peasants. Whoever, during the rule of the White Czechs, lends assistance to the enemy, will be shot.

The personal goods and estates of any participants in bourgeois sedition, as well as of their accomplices, shall be confiscated.

These goods will be used to compensate the families of the workers and peasants who have fallen under the blows of the counter-revolutionaries and, more generally, the toilers who have suffered under the bourgeois rebellion. [15 August 1918J.

Workers mobilized by the Whites were ordered, on pain of death for any default, to pass over to the Reds (order of 27 August on mobilization).

The persuasion, the example, the harshness, the assurance, the organizing skill of the Communist chiefs accomplished a miracle within four. weeks. At the time when Trotsky’s train arrived, all that existed at Sviazhsk (according to the report of one able member of the Revolutionary Council, S.I. Gusev) [18] was a formless mass of ten to fifteen thousand men, divided up into several dozen regiments, some formed long ago, others made up from little partisan groups. Some of these formations were so demoralized that they refused to enter battle, as was the case with the Fourth Latvian regiment, whose two leaders – both Communists – were sent before the revolutionary tribunal.

The other units, if they fought at all, often gave way before an enemy that was less numerous than they, but active and better organized ... The political departments, the tribunal and the intelligence services were staffed by inexperienced people. To sum up: little or no self-confidence, lack of initiative, passivity, indiscipline from top to bottom ... Trotsky’s special train imbued the doomed station of Sviazhsk with the determination to win, strong initiative and an active rhythm in all departments of the army’s machinery. From the very first days it could be sensed that a sharp change had taken place; it began to be felt first in matters of discipline. The severe methods practised by Trotsky were supremely adequate and necessary in this time of partisan warfare, indiscipline and insufferable conceit.

Out of the straggling horde of beaten soldiers from Kazan there came a powerful, self-assured army which was to enter Kazan once again.

When the news of Fanny Kaplan’s attempt arrived, Trotsky returned for a few days to Moscow; there he was able to inform Vee-Tsik that the situation was stable and in hand, and that the Red forces were able to cope with any unpleasant surprises. On 9 September, the sailor Markin knocked out an enemy battery inside Kazan itself. On the following day the Reds recaptured the city.

The workers in the arsenal at Kazan had risen against the Whites a few days previously, and been massacred. All young men in the city had been conscripted by the Constituent Assembly Committee and marched away by force. The bourgeois population had been in flight during four whole days, in interminable convoys of fugitives, taking away with them everything that they could. In the courtyard of the prison, a row of fresh corpses: the arrival of the Red cavalry commanded by the legendary Azin had interrupted the executions. Trotsky’s voice echoed out in the Soviet:

... Now that the workers are being charged with committing cruelties in the civil war, we must reply, instructed by our experience: the only unpardonable sin which the Russian working class can commit at this moment is that of indulgence towards its class enemies. We are fighting for the sake of the greatest good of mankind, for the sake of the regeneration of mankind, to drag it out of the darkness, out of slavery ... [19]


Two days later, on the 12th, the First Army under the command of Tukhachevsky captured Simbirsk. On the following night it forced a way across the Volga. To do this it had to gain control of an iron bridge, one kilometre long, which was straight in the enemy’s line of fire. A driverless locomotive was sent towards it, full steam ahead, followed by an armoured train, then by an infantry brigade. Artillery thundered from both banks of the river; the battle was lit up by barges set aflame by the Whites. The enemy, unnerved by this frontal attack, retreated in disorder. The army which achieved this exploit was a youthful one. Tukhachevsky, coming to his command at the end of June, had found it living inside trains from which it never ventured out, being content to do its fighting along the railway tracks. ‘The general staff was composed of five comrades. No administration existed; no one knew how many troops there were; the pro-vision of food was entirely due to the ingenuity and energy of one comrade who intercepted all trains passing through the region ...’ [20]

The plan drawn up by the Revolutionary War Council was now being put into operation. From the White Sea to the Black Sea, twelve armies had been successfully formed. Their disposition was as follows: in the north, blocking the advance of the British past Shenkursk, in the Dvina region, was the Sixth Army. Between Perm and Ekaterinburg lay the Fourth; between Perm and Kazan, the Second. At Kazan, the Fifth; farther south, now threatening Samara, was the First, under Tukhachevsky; at Saratov, the Fourth; at Tsaritsyn, the Tenth (under Voroshilov); in the Northern Caucasus, the Eleventh and Twelfth. These armies all number between eight and fifteen thousand men, except for the Tenth (an imposing force of 40,000 men, 240 cannon and thirteen armoured trains facing Ataman Krasnov’s Don Cossack army, which was almost equally matched) and the two north Caucasian armies: the latter, over 100,000 Reds, kept a similar number of Whites occupied with a mobile war that was prodigal in exterminations, sackings of towns, atrocious reprisals and deeds of valour.

The Red Army came into being in a class struggle that, owing to the terror, had turned into a primitive, even though organized, version of the struggle for life. We will dwell for a moment on a few brilliant pages of this epoch, which are far too little known. Better than any lengthy exposition, they will provide an under-standing of what this war was, and of why the Reds were bound to win.

In May, the workers of Ekaterinburg and the miners of Chelyabinsk had assembled their first contingents to do battle against Dutov’s Cossacks close to Orenburg. When the Czechoslovaks marched towards the Ural, all the factories rose to arms, creating new brigades which massed around the earlier volunteers. The people of Ekaterinburg, Verkhne-Uralsk and Troitsk thus formed a small army of some 10,000 men (possessing sixty machine-guns and a dozen cannon), but with so few officers that commissions had to be conferred on Communist party members, members of the Soviets and former officers. The command of this force fell upon a Bolshevik worker who had been an NCO, Blyukher. The Czechs captured Verkhne-Uralsk, and Blyukher’s small army was swollen by some 2,000 refugees. The proletarians of the captured town came out in carts, bringing their families and all their most treasured possessions: the samovar, the bedding, the household linen. They also brought a gold reserve of 130 kilos. The army was practically surrounded. Where could they go? Should they try and reach Turkestan? Or work back along the lower Volga? They decided to cross over the ridges of the Ural range so that they could link up with the Red Army in the north. It was both a guerrilla war and a people’s migration. At every big factory the army was reinforced with fresh partisans and new contingents of fugitives. Just by Verkhne-Uralsk itself, at a point where it was necessary to force their way through, the partisans, short of ammunition, had to make a charge with bayonets and pikes against an eminence defended by Cossacks, officers and high-school pupils. Face to face the combatants stood and recognized one another, inhabitants of the same streets, neighbours, cousins, workers and bosses, sometimes fathers and sons. They wavered for a moment, reluctant to seize each others’ throats. Then body tangled with body in frenzied battle. The Reds passed on.

The armament of both sides was appalling. Old rifles were wrenched from museum displays, hunting-rifles were brought along, pikes and clubs were crudely fashioned, like those of the Jacqueries of medieval times; bullets were moulded by any apparatus that came to hand; wooden rattles were used to simulate machine-gun fire. In the rear, children of ten drove the carts, where the women and the wounded lay keeping up a hail of gunfire. Neither the Whites nor the Reds took any prisoners. Perfect discipline and superb organization sprang up in this army, where soldiers and leaders received the same pay (150 roubles a month), where the commanders went into battle like everyone else, where cartridges were in such short supply that they became a precious object of barter. At the end of a month of privations and struggles, with the Urals behind them, they reached the factories of Bogoyavlensk and Arkhangelsk, close to Ufa. There a new act of heroism became necessary, since the breakthrough at this point looked extraordinarily difficult: they had to abandon their families. The immense sacrifice was voted by a mass of raised hands, in a crushed silence. On 2 September at Krasny Yar, Blyukher’s army, swept with constant machine-gun fire from the Whites, was trapped by the side of a deep river, the Ufa. A bridge was constructed in a single night, with tree trunks crudely joined together. Again, the Reds passed on. They had imagined that every man among them was doomed to perish. Their command, determined to make a stand till the last cartridges were gone, had made the final arrangements: each soldier was to keep his last bullet for a comrade; the army commander, the last to be left standing, was to be the only one to kill himself. When the other side of the river was reached, 200 prisoners were taken; not one of them was spared. Finally, on 13 September, the Ural partisans effected their link with the Third Red Army, near Kungur to the south of Perm. In fifty days of fighting over the Urals peaks they had covered about 1,000 miles. [21]

Some 1,200 miles from them, during approximately the same dates, another Red Army was performing a similar exploit. 16,000 guerrillas, followed by a population of refugees (some tens of thousands of souls), who had been separated from the Red forces of the Kuban as the result of a defeat, fought a long retreat over the Taman Peninsula which takes the mountains of the Caucasus towards the Crimea. There they found themselves blockaded in a hopeless position. Only one path was open to them: the dike that extends towards the south alongside the azure waters of the Black Sea. The sea was patrolled by German cruisers; the mountains overhanging the dike were full of enemy soldiers. Along the shore were small towns, ruined and famished: no chance of obtaining food from here. Overhead, a scorching sun. This human flood followed the line of the dike. They had to march without stopping so as not to die of hunger. Their necessity created discipline, order, leaders. A former captain, a peasant’s son named Epifany Kovtyukh, laid down the law of common safety for the partisans. His column, breaking through every obstacle in its way like a battering-ram, soon felt irresistible. The army and the refugees kept alive on maize, nuts and wild fruit. Half-naked in their rags, leaving stragglers to die by the roadside, they journeyed on in the burning dust. On 16 August, after a fortnight of marching and fighting without quarter, they found their path barred by the impregnable outpost of Tuapse, which was defended by a Georgian garrison. The enemy, there in his eagle’s nest bristling with guns, was sure of victory. But some of the partisans managed to scale the rock-face with the help of bayonets driven into the winding crags. At dawn, the Reds rushed into the fortress, and were merciless. Then the army marched against Maikop, where General Pokrovsky was engaged in an orgy of blood-lust: hangings, sabrings, shootings, to an estimated total of 4,000 dead (the town has 45,000 inhabitants). In the glades on their journey the Reds found crucified women. They smashed Pokrovsky’s cavalry, they captured Maikop, they captured Armavir (25 September).

Epifany Kovtyukh’s retreat from Taman has been described by the writer Serafimovich in a novel which both sticks fairly closely to the historical truth and effectively reconstructs the atmosphere: The Iron Torrent. There is a translation of it in French. [22]

No decisive military importance can be attached to the heroism of the Ural fighters, nor to that displayed by the partisans of the Kuban; but these things should be known if the victory of the Reds is to be understood. Sviazhsk, the Ural, Tuapse – these three simultaneous feats of daring witness the same social imperatives, the same drive to win, or, more simply, to survive.


Meanwhile, as the Reds were gaining strength, the democratic revolution was correspondingly finding itself in the midst of increasing difficulties. The Constituent Assembly Committee in Samara had received a warm welcome only from the wealthy classes. It now had to suppress revolts inside the factories and disturbances in the country districts, which had become indignant with the mobilization and the requisitionings. Even the bourgeoisie detached itself from the Samara régime and began to look towards Siberia, where reaction appeared predestined to assume a dominant role. The ‘Socialist-Revolutionary’ government enjoyed, in fact, two sources of support: the bayonets of the Czechoslovaks and the White terror. The most significant episodes of the struggle in this. phase were: the massacre of the insurgent workers from the azan arsenal, a few days before the Reds entered the city; the massacre of the workers of the munitions factory at Ivashchenko, near Samara, who had also revolted – here 1,500 men, women and children were sabred down; [23] the massacre of the 306 political prisoners who had been evacuated towards Ufa following the fall of Samara.

The White officers who were sent into the countryside to mobilize conscripts treated the peasants according to the old customs of Tsardom. They arrested suspects and sometimes gave estates back to the expropriated landlords. They ordered floggings for the recruits, the local dignitaries, suspects and complainers. Here, as an illustration, is a passage from one of the many reports published in the Constituent Assembly supporters’ own newspapers:

District of Klyuchevsk. A Cossack brigade of two hundred men surrounded the town and stopped everyone from going out until the workers had returned from the fields. In the evening eighteen persons were arrested. Those due for recruitment had hidden away; their fathers and mothers were flogged. In the morning, those arrested were taken into the square, where they were forced to undress and lie down on their clothing. All of them were then flogged, and two peasants were taken into a courtyard and shot.

Colonel Galkin, the organizer of the National Army, ordered trials for the relatives of peasants who had deserted, and for any local authorities who displayed insufficient energy in the campaign against desertion. The growing unpopularity of the Constituent Assembly supporters in the countryside materially assisted the activity of the Reds.

At this time, about twenty counter-revolutionary governments existed between the Ural and Vladivostok. The Committee for the Constituent Assembly seemed to be the one with the most authority; it was the only democratic one, with the greatest support from the Czechoslovaks, and the most influential in European Russia. Its principal rival was the Regional Government of Siberia, whose seat was at Omsk and whose territory extended as far as Chelyabinsk. The government of the Ural, headed by a liberal industrialist, L.A. Krol, had cordial relations with the open reactionaries at Omsk (bourgeois Kadets and Cossack generals, these last with real effectives at their command enjoying the use of sabres and horses). The Czechs kept up their end of the front only to give the Russians an opportunity to establish a national army, and were pressing for the creation of a Russian central authority. There thus arose the idea of a Conference of the various anti-Bolshevik governments.

The Ufa Conference, meeting from 8-25 September, assembled the representatives of the Constituent Assembly; the Samara Committee for the Constituent Assembly; the Regional Government of Siberia at Omsk; the Provisional Regional Government of the Ural; the Cossacks of the Ural, Siberia, Eastern Turkestan, Yenisei, Astrakhan and Irkutsk; the Bashkirian government; the Alash-Orda Kirghizian government; the National Council of Turks and Tartars; a provisional Estonian government; the Congress of Towns and Zemstvos of the Volga, Ural and Siberia; and the Central Committees of the following parties: S-R, Menshevik Social-Democrats, People’s Socialist, Unity Social-Democrat (Edinstvo, Plekhanov’s group), People’s Freedom (Kadet party), League for Renewal. The several governments of the Far East were not represented. The S-R democrats from Samara (N. Avksentiev, Gendelman, Argunov, Zenzinov, Catherine Breshko-Breshkovskaya, Volsky and Vedenyapin) set the tone from the first in this variegated assembly, which brought together, elbow to elbow, sincere Socialists, former terrorists, monarchist generals, Cossack atamans, businessmen, industrialists, liberal professors, bourgeois leaders of national minorities, foreign agents and adventurers.

The Conference, with a benediction from the Archbishop Andrei, opened with a religious service held in the cathedral square. In it two tendencies were immediately at loggerheads: on one side the S-Rs, who wanted a democratic, parliamentary, republican counter-revolution led by a government responsible to the Constituent Assembly; on the other, the generals, the bourgeoisie and the most far-sighted men of action, who wanted a military dictatorship at first, followed by a régime based on the reactionary forces. Each of these tendencies leant for support upon a government: it was Omsk versus Samara. The Kadet orator L.A. Krol advocated ‘an authority that will be strong, supreme, personal, uncontrolled and responsible to no one’. The capture of Kazan by the Reds weakened the position of the S-Rs; however, the Czechoslovaks were hostile to the monarchist reactionaries. The Conference adopted a compromise solution by establishing a Directorate of five members, armed with the most extensive powers pending the convening of the Constituent Assembly. These five were: the most Right-wing of the Right S-Rs, N. Avksentiev, the party’s outstanding orator; a Kadet bourgeois, N.I. Astrov; a liberal general, Boldyrev; a liberal representative of the Siberian government, Vologodsky; and the old Populist Socialist Chaikovsky. Chaikovsky was absent from the proceedings, and was to be called on to head the National Government of the North at Archangel, under the British occupation. Among the deputy members were the S-Rs, Argunov and Zenzinov, and the old monarchist General Alexeyev.

The Directorate set itself the following tasks: the abolition of the Soviet régime; the return of the lost territories to Russia; the cancellation of all treaties concluded by the Bolsheviks; the implementation of the treaties linking Russia with the Allied powers; the resumption of the war against the German coalition; the formation of a powerful national army; the establishment of a democratic régime. This programme received the approval of the representatives of Czechoslovakia and France (in the person of M. Jeannot), and Mr Alston, the British charge d’affaires in Siberia, sent his government’s best wishes to the conference:

The British people observes with relief that Russia, justifying the trust that the Allies have never ceased to place in her, is returning to the field of battle. They offer her a helping hand, in a spirit of joy. May the Conference of Ufa succeed in founding the new Russia, strong and free ...

The counter-revolutionaries’ rear was in a state of ferment, stricken by demoralization. Their front line was caving in under the Red Army’s battering-ram. The Czechs, tired now of bearing the brunt of resistance to the Reds almost unaided, were giving way. The Japanese were beginning their systematic plan of conquest in the Far East. [24] The forces of outright reaction, encouraged by the Allies, were engaged in establishing military dictatorship in Siberia. But the party of the middle classes, utterly unable to draw any lesson from its own experiences, totally blinded by its democratic illusions, continued to build on sand in the midst of the hurricane.


After the September days, the terror does not die away; it slackens and becomes systematic. The newspapers are already publishing several times a week the communiqués of the Extraordinary Commissions: these, in every corner of the country, are proceeding with summary executions of criminals and counter-revolutionaries. One issue of Izvestia (for 24 October 1918), which we cite simply as an example, contains two columns of information of this sort. It is worth going through. The Cheka of Yegorievsk district has had a counter-revolutionary priest interned in a monastery for three years. That in Ivanovo-Voznesensk has sentenced a speculator, who insulted a commissar during a search, to five weeks of imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 roubles. That in Meschovsk district has shot a former police-official, ‘a keen Black Hundreds member’, and adds, ‘The population is calm.’ That in Kozel announces simply that it is suppressing agitation among the priests and kulaks. At Mineyevsk, a Right S-R has been executed. At Perm, they are mainly using fines; the Commission is publishing a bulletin to keep the population informed of what it is doing. Then comes a new headline: ‘War Against Corruption’. An investigating magistrate from the All-Russian Central Commission, and his office-boy, have been convicted of bribe-taking and been shot. There follows a list of sixteen criminals executed by order of the Central Commission: forgers, bandits, a Cheka soldier who forged a stamp from a cooperative, a Cheka commissar who tried to sell a revolver. The Commission at Kotlas has shot a citizen guilty of conducting counter-revolutionary agitation. The Commission in Shui announces the execution of seven ‘thieves, assassins and provocateurs’.

This cutting from Izvestia gives quite a good picture of the Red terror, which is not only a necessary and decisive weapon in the class war but also a terrible instrument for the inner purification of the proletarian dictatorship itself. ‘The Extraordinary Commission,’ writes one of the men who directed the terror, [25] ‘is neither an investigating commission nor a tribunal. It is an organ of struggle, acting on the home front of the civil war by the methods of investigation, the tribunal and armed force. It does not judge the enemy, it strikes him.’ It is not concerned with establishing and grading the guilt of individuals; it asks itself what social class, what background the adversary belongs to, whether he is dangerous and if so in what measure. The Commissions con-ducted investigations that were sometimes summary, sometimes long and complex, always in virtually total secrecy, without admitting the right of defence. The investigating judge reached his conclusions on his own responsibility; the Commission pronounced sentence without hearing the accused. When there was any question of the death penalty the verdict had to be agreed unanimously (at the beginning the Commissions were composed of twelve members, with a single vote sufficing to veto a death sentence). Executions usually took place in absolute secrecy, to avoid arousing untoward emotions among the populace. In large cities they were often carried out in cellars; by revolver.

The local Commissions were gradually, though not without friction, made subordinate to the Central Commission. [26] A special section was established to combat espionage and counter-revolution in the army and navy, and another for the surveillance of the transport system.

The Commissions undertook a census of the whole bourgeois population for the purpose of selecting hostages from them. Dzerzhinsky and the other chiefs of the Vee-Cheka repeatedly instructed them to avoid arrest except in cases when it was really necessary. An Order No.83, some time in November 1918, even ordered the release from confinement of those members of the KD (Constitutional Democrat) party, the organization of the big bourgeoisie, who had not engaged in any noteworthy political activity.

The Commissions held a number of local and regional conferences. One of these, in mid-October in Petrograd, brought together the heads of all the Chekas in the north-west. It transpired there that the Commissions still had only very spasmodic sources of funds, such as fines and levies. Zinoviev, who presented the report, mentioned the Left S-Rs, who had just incited a disturbance in the city, and stressed that from now on ‘only the Communist party could function freely’. In addition, he pointed to the dangerous vices and pretensions of certain Commissions who were tending to substitute themselves for the local authorities. A tendency towards a dictatorship of the Extraordinary Commissions was becoming visible. He emphasized sharply how necessary it was to punish corrupted commissars with the severest rigour.

Peters, one of the heads of the Vee-Cheka, protested in the same month at ‘the undesirable forms that the system of terror was assuming in the provinces’ (Izvestia, 29 October). A dispute arose over. the respective spheres of competence of the Commissariat for the Interior and the Chekas. There can be no doubt that a large number of abuses were committed. The running of the prisons, in this epoch of famine, epidemics and an extreme hardening of personal behaviour, was simply detestable (and provoked several interventions in the press from influential Communists); many cases dragged on for ages, others were polished off crudely. Karl Radek was one of the first to propose new forms of terror, more rational than summary executions.

The bourgeoisie [he declared] must be hit in its economic privileges. Before winter begins let us requisition the warm clothing, the comfortable houses, all the surplus that comes from individual affluence; let us give it all to the army, to the workers. Let us pass draconic legislation against conspiracy ... It is impermissible for there to be luxury restaurants in Moscow like the Praga; it is impermissible that the bourgeoisie should muffle itself in costly furs while the Red soldier at the front suffers from the frost ...

That was the state of things still (Izvestia, 6 October).

What was the scale of the Red terror? All that we have available to answer this question is very incomplete data. No regular statistics were issued in the first months; the official figures published by Latsis [27] are based on information often of a random character. With these reservations in mind, let us examine them. The Extraordinary Commissions were set up, as we know, in December 1917. In the first six months of their activity they executed only twenty-two people. In the last six months of 1918, more than 6,000 executions were proceeded with. The monthly average of executions for 1918 is: counter-revolutionaries, 380; dishonest and criminal officials, fourteen; speculators, three. [28] The Red terror, in four years of revolution, perhaps spilt less blood than what flowed on certain days during the battle of Verdun.


Some striking parallels can be traced between the French Revolution and the Russian revolution, even in the details of events and actions. Even the dates provide some impressive coincidences. Thus, the days of 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 September, in 1792 and 1918, are marked in both cases by the extermination of domestic enemies inside the prisons. The Paris of 1792 rose to arms mercilessly when the news came of the entry of the Prussians into Verdun. The proletarians of Petrograd and Moscow took up the sword once the Czechs had captured all the major towns on the Volga, and when the British were seizing Archangel and Murmansk. In both revolutions, decisive crises appeared in the summer months, July, August and September. This was true of France in 1792 and 1793, in Russia in 1917, 1918 and 1919. Doubtless these months are the most propitious for the waging of war, for reasons climatic, biological (human energy reaching its peak of expression at this time) and social (the closeness of harvest-time).

The crisis of July-August-September 1918, whose direct and necessary result was the Red terror, vividly recalls the situation that beset the French Revolution during the same months in 1793, after the betrayal of Dumouriez and the Vendee rebellion, with Normandy, Bordeaux and Lyon all in revolt. Charlotte Corday had murdered Marat; the coalition powers were invading France; the British were capturing Toulon; conspiracy, treason and famine were undermining the revolution from within; William Pitt was organizing the coalition of Europe for the defence of civilization against the sans-culottes; the London press was supplying horrifying details on the ‘Jacobin atrocities’. The Commune of Paris and the Committee of Public Safety gave the enemies of the revolution their reply: the mass call to arms, the terror, the Law of the Maximum. The revolutionary tribunals were no less prompt in their operation than the Extraordinary Commissions. In France as in Russia, it was necessary to galvanize the spirit of the army, subdue the generals by demanding their heads in case of defeat, and send members of the Convention into the armies. Carnot fulfilled the same role as Trotsky.

The Jacobin terror seems to us to have been much bloodier than the Bolshevik one. Certainly it was crueller: ’At Angers the condemned were led to the place of execution ... to the sound of music, with the roads lined with members of the revolutionary authorities dressed in festive costume and with soldiers.’ [29] At Nantes and Lyon and in the Vendee, the revolution cut off heads by thousands; in Paris, 1,376 fell in nine days after the decree of 22 Prairial. [30] It should be noted that France at this time had between twenty-five and thirty million inhabitants.

But historic necessity needs no justification. There has never been a war, never a revolution without terror. In the class war, terror has from time immemorial been the favourite weapon of the propertied classes. Turn back to the history of the Reformation and the religious wars, of the Jacqueries, of the English revolution in the seventeenth century, of the War of Secession in the United States. [31]

And remember above all the experience of these last ten years. The discipline of all the armies of the Great War, all of them so lavish in heroism, rested in the end on terror: does anyone know the number of those sent to the firing-squad by courts-martial? In central Europe, in Finland, in Spain, in Italy, in the Balkans, capitalism when threatened has resorted to the White terror, which is elevated by fascist dictatorship into a permanent system.

Besides, it is out of White terrqr that Red terror is born. The workers and peasants, little enough inclined to take to the sword, in view of their inexperience in power and the generous idealism of many revolutionaries, learnt their lesson from the defenders of Tsardom and of capitalism. It is even somewhat disconcerting to see the leniency of the victors towards the vanquished, both after the fall of the autocracy and after the October rising. After the Red October, the ultra-reactionary leader Purishkevich was quietly set at liberty. The Cossack ataman Krasnov, captured with arms in his hands, was released on parole. The Moscow Junkers who massacred the workers in the Kremlin arsenal were simply disarmed. It took ten months of bloodier and bloodier struggles, of plots, sabotage, famine, assassinations; it took foreign intervention, the White terror in Helsinki, Samara, Baku and the Ukraine, it took the blood of Lenin, before the revolution decided finally to let the axe fall! This in a country where over a whole century the masses had been brought up by the autocracy in the school of persecutions, flogging, hangings and shootings!

During the same period, in the territories occupied by the counter-revolution, the White terror claimed infinitely more victims. There are no statistics to enlighten us on this point. But the facts reported in great profusion in the memoirs both of White and of Red combatants are truly frightful. We have pointed out a few: General Pokrovsky massacring 4,000 men at Maikop (northern Caucasus); 1,500 workers killed by the Whites and Czechs at the Ivashchenkovo factory near Samara. In the small town of Troitsk (Ural region) the White-Czech forces slaughtered several hundred Reds. Bands of Kornilov’s officers passed through the little town of Lezhanka (in the Don region); they had just received casualties of three dead and seventeen wounded; they left behind them, in this one village, 507 corpses. [32] Larissa Reissner’s account tells us that in the time of the Czechoslovaks the corpses never stopped drifting along the Volga. But with these numberless victims the ‘civilized world’ – that is to say, the capitalist world – has scarcely ever concerned itself, except to make sure that the numbers went up. It shut its eyes to the White terror, the work of its own soldiers. It was the Red terror that plunged it into a holy fury.


The writings of Lenin contain no more than a few references, incidental and formal, to the terror. The stark necessity to break, ruthlessly and decisively, the resistance of the propertied classes was self-evident in the eyes of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who for this very reason thought it superfluous to prove the matter theoretically. From the first days of therevolutionary government, Lenin had pressed for stern measures and fought against the ‘pacifist illusions’ and ‘impermissible weaknesses’ of his immediate circle.

Stupidities, stupidities [he would repeat]. Do they think they can make a revolution without shooting people? Do you think that you can master your enemies by disarming yourself? What other methods of repression are at your disposal? Imprisonment? Who, during a civil war, will allow himself to be deterred by that when both opponents have the same hope of coming out top? [33]

He added a footnote to one page of his pamphlet Left Infantilism and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality, written in May:

Let us look squarely at the truth again: the pitiless harshness which is necessary for the victory of Socialism is still lacking in us, and it is not that we lack determination. We are quite determined enough. But we have been unable to catch quickly enough a sufficient number of the speculators, marauders and capitalists who break the Soviet laws ... In the second place our tribunals are lacking in firmness when, instead of shooting defrauders, they give them six months’ prison. These two faults have the same social root: the influence of the petty-bourgeois element, its flabbiness. [34]

He was too realistic to avoid the conclusion that ‘in a revolution, greater energy is equivalent to greater humanity’ (Trotsky). Hesitations and weaknesses have a heavy cost. The more decisively a struggle is waged, the less long and costly it is, the better chance of success it offers. ‘The clemency which treats with tyranny is barbarous,’ Robespierre declared to the National Convention.

The theory of terror was expounded by Trotsky in 1920, in a book devoted to the refutation of a work by Karl Kautsky with the same title: Terrorism and Communism.

The Red terror [Trotsky writes] is not to be distinguished in principle from the armed insurrection, of which it is no more than a continuation. The terror of a revolutionary class in power can be condemned ‘from the moral point of view’ only by a person who (verbally, to be sure) condemns all violence on principle.

Terror is powerless – and even then, only in the ultimate reckoning – when it is exercised by reaction against a class which has rebelled through the laws of its historical development. Against the reactionary class, on the other hand, which is reluctant to leave the stage, it cannot but be efficacious.

It is for this profound reason that the Red terror is always far less bloody than the White terror. The toiling masses use terror against classes which are a minority in society. It does no more than complete the work of newly arisen economic and political forces. When progressive measures have rallied millions of workers to the cause of revolution, the resistance of the privileged minorities is not difficult to break at this stage. White terror, on the other hand, is carried out by these privileged minorities against the labouring masses, whom it has to slaughter, to decimate. The Versaillais accounted for more victims in a single week in Paris alone than the Cheka killed in three years over the whole of Russia.

The key to victory in civil war is basically the same as that in wars between states. It is a question of annihilating a part – the best part – of the human forces of the enemy and of demoralizing and disarming the others. Modern warfare tends increasingly to nullify any distinction between combatants and non-combatants. The destruction of the railway centres and industrial complexes of the enemy is as important as the task of destroying his armies. The destruction of the proletariat working in the rear to supply the front line with machinery and munitions will be, in all wars of the future, an objective quite as important as the destruction of the soldiers in the first line of battle. On all these points, civil war anticipates the code of war between states. It recognizes no non-belligerents; it searches everywhere, without quarter, for the living strength of the hostile classes. Before a social class can be struck to the heart and admit its own defeat, terrible losses must be inflicted on it. Its sturdiest, bravest, most intelligent sons must be cut down. The best of its life-blood must be drained. (So we have, in the first days of inter-State warfare, the holocaust of the fighting armies, of the flower of the nations’ youth, which would otherwise be quite absurd.) That is how it has always been in. the past. Must it be always so in the future? Certainly the régimes of White terror now installed in many countries of Europe are doing their utmost to ensure that tomorrow’s reckoning for today’s ruling classes will be truly frightful. Nonetheless, let us,have confidence in the power of the proletariat to spare humanity, in the social wars of the future, from too great a blood-letting. Like the Jacobin terror, the Red terror was directly provoked by foreign intervention.

In 1918, international working-class solidarity was still not strong enough to prevent all foreign intervention from moving in against the revolution. If it had been, revolutionary Russia would easily have been spared four years of civil war. A victorious proletariat which is shielded against foreign invasion by the inter-national solidarity of the workers will need no terror, or else will need it only for a very short time. It will be the responsibility of the possessing classes to gauge the balance of the contending forces with sufficient realism to avoid initiating disastrous battles against a proletariat which is assured of victory. Proletarian organization; class-consciousness; fearless and implacable revolutionary will; active international solidarity: these, we believe, are the factors which, if they are present in a certain degree of strength, may make the Red terror superfluous in the future.


[1] Admiral Kolchak subsequently drew on this gold reserve, stolen from the Russian nation, as follows: to the French, 876 poods (one pood = approximately thirty-six pounds avoirdupois); to the British, 516; to the Anglo-French jointly, 698; to the Japanese, 1,142 (total: 3,232 poods). Deposited with Japan as security for a loan, 1,500 poods; as security with an Anglo-American finance trust, 3,397; purchases of American rifles, 100; purchase of Remington rifles, fifty; purchase of Colt machine-guns, fifty; total out-goings 5,637 poods. Deposited at Shanghai, 375. Grand total: 9,244 poods (S. Piontkovsky, Material on the History of the Counter-revolution, Proletarskaya Revoliutsiya, No.1, 1921).

[2] See the reference on p.268.

[3] Or Condeau. We have transliterated the name from the Russian.

[4] See I. Maisky, The Democratic Counter-Revolution (Demokraticheskaya Kontr-Revoliutsiya) (Moscow, 1923).

[5] It would fall to less than 750,000 inhabitants in 1919-20.

[6] [Makhno’s armies liberated large tracts of the Ukraine in the battles of 1919 against Denikin and of 1920 against Wrangel. In the latter offensive the Red Army cooperated with the anarchist forces, despite the harrying of anarchism that was official Bolshevik policy. However, once Wrangel was defeated, the Reds turned against Makhno, surrounding his troops and executing his lieutenants who had gone in to parley with them. Makhno fought his way to the Rumanian frontier with a handful of men; he died in exile in Paris, a demoralized, alcoholic factory-worker, in 1934.]

[7] M.S. Uritsky, the son of a Jewish small-trading family in Kiev, and former law student, had undergone three sentences of exile in Yakutia and northern Russia, and several terms of imprisonment. This professional revolutionary, riddled with tuberculosis, knew no private life. He had joined the Bolshevik party at the same time as Trotsky, and was on its Central Committee.

Fanny Kaplan and Kanegisser were shot. The background to these killings was revealed later, at the trial of the Central Committee of the S-R party in June and July 1922, held in Moscow, when the main terrorists of the organization had gone over to Bolshevism. The Central Committee members persisted in their denial of any responsibility for these acts, but it was established that they had knowledge of their preparation; that one of them (Donskoi) had met and talked with Fanny Kaplan; and that the terrorist organization was providing them with money from the proceeds of ‘expropriations’ and had been instructed by them to blow up a gold train on its way to Germany. The S-R party wanted to gain the benefit of the assassinations, but not to take too heavy a responsibility for them, the outcome being so uncertain. Donskoi suggested to the terrorist Semyonov that a squad of ‘Black Mask’ activists be formed, in the style of the anarchists ... Fanny Kaplan had been an anarchist terrorist: she had been arrested in Kiev in 1906 and given life imprisonment. In the Akatui convict prison, where she spent ten years, she became an S-R. ‘I fired at Lenin’, she declared, ‘because I consider him a traitor to Socialism, because his very existence discredits Socialism. I am unconditionally on the side of the Samara government and the struggle against Germany, side by side with the Allies.’

[8] Testimony at the Moscow trial of S-Rs, hearing of 28 June 1922.

[9] [Cromie, the Naval Attache of the British Embassy, had been left in Petrograd as the senior embassy official after the Allied diplomats’ departure for Vologda: he was entrusted specifically with the task of blowing up what remained of the Russian Baltic fleet in the harbour of the city. Already in early May, the War Cabinet in London had authorized his preparations, and allocated a sum of £300,000 as the sum required by Cromie for ‘payment to be made for services rendered’ (War Cabinet ‘A’ Minutes, Minutes 408A and 409A of meetings dated 10 and 11 May 1918; Public Record Office. File Cab. 23/14). At this stage Cromie’s destruction of the fleet was to be conditional upon a sudden German descent on Petrograd, and the somewhat chimerical proviso was added: ‘Care should be taken not to antagonize unnecessarily the Soviet government.’ However, later in the month Lockhart cabled London urging the synchronization of Cromie’s explosions with a massive anti-Soviet intervention in the north and at Vladivostok (on Lockhart’s intervention plan see Postscript, p.373, and R.H. Ullman, Intervention and the War (Princeton, 1961), pp.186-8; his message linking Cromie’s scheme with the intervention against the Soviet government was sent as telegram 219, dispatched 25 May 1918; in Milner MSS, Box 110, File C-1). In the press after Cromie’s death, and in subsequent British accounts, the captain was presented as something of an ordinary diplomat going about his innocent business and foully slain by an intemperate Cheka. Even Ullman remarks: ‘At the time of his death his plans for this destruction were far advanced, but there was nothing specifically counter-revolutionary about them. They were wholly connected with Britain’s war against Germany.’ But, even if the Bolsheviks could be expected to appreciate this distinction, it is invalidated by Lockhart’s 25 May telegram, which states: ‘If however we are to intervene without Bolsheviks as now seems probable, it will be absolutely necessary for us to destroy Baltic fleet. I have had several conversations with Captain Cromie to this effect.’

Cromie, according to the memoirs of Paul Dukes (a British Secret Service agent active in Petrograd later in 1918), had also been working with a reactionary cabal of Russian monarchist ex-officers in the city (Sir Paul Dukes, The Story of ‘ST 25’: Adventure and Romance in the Secret Intelligence Service in Red Russia (London, 1938), pp.41, 79). Since one of these, on Dukes’s account, was a Cheka double-agent, neither the raid on the British Embassy nor Cromie’s death, in the exchange of fire that followed, can be considered as an ill-considered or bloodthirsty action by the Cheka, especially in the siege conditions of the time.]

[10] [Accounts of the ‘Lockhart affair’ are given in: N. Reilly, Sidney Reilly, Britain’s Master Spy: A Narrative Written by Himself, Edited and Completed by his Wife (London, 1931); G.A. Hill, Go Spy the Land: Being the Adventures of IK8 of the British Secret Service (London, 1932); R.H. Bruce Lockhart, Memoirs of a British Agent (London, 1932); Robin Bruce Lockhart, Ace of Spies (another biography of Reilly) (London, 1967). All deny that Lockhart had any part in the Kremlin conspiracy. The memoirs of Hill, an agent involved with Reilly in the ‘,Lettish plot’, are of particular interest: Hill, who had been working as a liaison officer with the Reds’ own military intelligence service, was deputed officially for anti-Bolshevik work in Moscow, with Reilly and de Vertemont, after the departure of the Allied missions (Hill, op. cit., p.212; Reilly, op. cit., p.30). The Soviet version implicating Lockhart as the main instigator of the assassination plot was repeated with testimony from a Cheka agent-provocateur among the Lettish participants, in the Moscow paper Nedelya in March 1966; an English translation is given as an appendix in Lockhart, Ace of Spies.]

[11] [De Vertemont and Kalamatiano were the heads respectively of French and United States Intelligence in Moscow (Hill, op. cit., pp.236, 246). Kalamatiano was shot after being found guilty by the Revolutionary Tribunal in the ‘Lockhart conspiracy’.]

[12] [The Western accounts are at pains to deny this. ‘Rather than execute them, Reilly intended to de-bag the Bolshevik hierarchy and, with Lenin and Trotsky in front, to march them through the streets of Moscow bereft of trousers and underpants, shirt-tails flying in the breeze. They would then be imprisoned.’ (Lockhart, Ace of Spies, p.76; see also, Reilly, op. cit., pp.25-8; Hill, op. cit., p.238, who adds that Reilly’s aim was solely ‘to kill them by ridicule’.)]

[13] [According to Lockhart (Memoirs of a British Agent, p.316), he provided the Letts only with a letter on official British paper, signed by himself, to enable them to pass through the lines of the northern front and defect to General Poole’s forces. All the Western published sources deny any personal participation by Lockhart in Reilly’s plot to seize the Bolshevik leadership in the Kremlin. Lockhart’s own memoirs state that he, Grenard and Lavergue were told by Reilly of his projected coup, and warned him not to proceed with it (loc. cit.). Serge’s account of Lockhart’s role in the whole intrigue is relatively restrained: and Lockhart’s very lenient treatment at the hands of the Cheka (he was interned in the Kremlin, allowed visits from his Russian woman-friend, and visited several times by Karakhan for chats about diplomatic matters) raise the question of how seriously the Bolsheviks took his guilt, despite the death-sentence passed on him in absentia following his repatriation to England.

On the other hand, the possibility cannot be excluded that there was a conscious division of labour in the conspiracy between him and Reilly. The account of Lockhart’s son (Ace of Spies, pp.70, 73-5, 90, 98) reveals an extremely close and confidential relationship between the two, both in anti-Bolshevik intrigue in Moscow (Lockhart’s subsidization of the White underground was channelled through Reilly) and in the pro-interventionist social circle, including Secret Service agents and senior Intelligence and diplomatic officials, who frequented Reilly’s rooms in the Albany from 1918 on (see note 35, Chapter 11). Lockhart Jr reproduces a photograph (op cit., opposite p.96) of an inscribed cigar-box presented by Reilly to Lockhart. The inscription reads: ‘To R.H. Bruce Lockhart, HBM’s Representative in Russia in 1918 (during the Bolchevik régime), in remembrance of events in Moscow during August and September of that year, from his faithful Lieutenant, Sidney Reilly.’ And two very friendly personal letters to Lockhart from his ’lieutenant’, dated 23 and 25November1918,anddiscussingthestruggle against Bolshevism, are preserved in Milner MSS (Box 110, File C-2). In the first Reilly writes advocating the formation of an ‘LDC (League of the Defence of Civilization)’ to withstand ‘the great cataclysm relentlessly approaching’. (‘Next year we will have civil war all over the world. You will find me on the side of the “White Guards” who are bound to lose.’) Reilly asks his old colleague to ‘do something’ to support the approaches he was making through the Secret Service and Foreign Office to find ‘a half-way decent job’ in order to ‘continue to serve ... in the question of Russia and Bolshevism’. ‘I should like nothing better’, Reilly concludes his plea, ‘than to serve under you.’]

[14] Only very few details have been published about the Lockhart affair. We have drawn on the communiques of the Vee-Cheka that appeared in the newspapers of the time, and on the reminiscences of Peters in No.10 (33) of Proletarskaya Revoliutsiya, 1924.

[15] A. Morizet, Chez Lenine et Trotski (Paris, 1921). This book includes a very interesting interview with the head of the Red Army.

[16] Larissa Reissner, The Front (Front) (Moscow, 1918). The author, the daughter of a Socialist professor, fought at Sviazhsk and in the Volga flotilla. Her little book, of which a German translation has been published, a psychological document and historical testimony of the first importance. An English translation of Larissa Reissner’s narrative, Sviazhsk, was published in Fourth International (New York), June 1943; reproduced in Leon ’rotsky: The Man and His Work (J. Hansen and others) (New York, 1969).]

[17] [Arkadi Rosengoltz subsequently joined Trotsky’s opposition to Stalin. He soon capitulated, and was appointed first ambassador to London ind then Commissar for Foreign Trade. He was arrested in late 1937 and ippeared as a major defendant in the Bukharin-Rykov Moscow trial the bllowing year; executed March 1938. Ivan Nikitich Smirnov was known as the Lenin of Siberia’ through his part in establishing Bolshevik rule there tfter the revolution. He lost his post in the Soviet government after his membership of the Trotskyist opposition, was exiled in 1927, but capitulated after Stalin’s ‘Left turn’. Arrested in 1933 and given a ten-year sentence, he was put on trial again with the ‘Trotskyite-Zinovievite Centre’ in August 1936 and shot with all the other defendants.]

[18] S.I. Gusev, The Days of Sviazhsk, in Proletarskaya Revoliutsiya, No.2 (25), 1924. [This is a very barbed reference by Serge, since Gusev, an old military rival of Trotsky’s from the eastern front dispute of 1919, had become a prominent writer, or rather re-writer, of military history from a Stalinist viewpoint: his brochure, Our Military Disagreements, had condemned the ‘severe methods’ of Trotsky which he had endorsed in the passage cited by Serge.]

[19] Speech at the Kazan Theatre, 11 September.

[20] M. Tukhachevsky, The First Army in 1918, in Revoliutsiya i Voina, No.4-5, 1921.

[21] The worker Blyukher became one of the Red Army’s best strategists; see M. Golubykh, The Partisans of the Ural [no Russian title available] (Ekaterinburg, 1924). [Blyukher, after a mission to the Kuomintang as their thief military adviser, became Red Army Marshal to the Far Eastern army; in this command he inflicted a decisive defeat on the Japanese at Lake Hassan in the summer of 1938. He died in November that year, having been arrested and severely tortured in the NKVD purge of the army.]

[22] [Kovtyukh continued his military career: he reached the rank of Army Corps Commander and was shot, probably in July 1938, in Stalin’s massacre of army leaders.]

[23] The 6,000 workers of Ivashchenko rose as the Red Army approached the city, but prematurely; the Reds did not reach Samara until a week later.

[24] In the present work we will be unable to follow the events taking place in the Far East. Ever since the beginning of the year, a ‘ Russian government’ had been in residence at Harbin in Manchuria, under the presidency of General Horvat, the manager of the Chinese-Eastern Railway. Mr Putilov [former owner of the famous Works] played a prominent role in it. It was this government that first proposed the formation of the National Army to Admiral Kolchak; the Admiral had to visit Tokyo to seek the agreement of the Japanese government. The real master of the Far East was the Japanese General Nakashima. Ataman Semyonov was battling against the Reds, at the lead of powerful bands of some 1,800 Chinese, Mongols, Buryats, Japanese, Serbs and Trans-Baikal Cossacks. His de facto chief of staff was one Captain Kuroki, the son of the Japanese marshal who distinguished himself in the Russo-Japanese war. A Siberian government, headed by the S-R Derber, was trying to function at Vladivostok. This town was being disputed between the Bolshevik workers on the one side and the Czechs and White Russians on the other. The Americans landed there in September; a Japanese marshal, Dtani, took the supreme command of all the Allied forces in Siberia; and the Allies formed a council of High Commissioners, on which Britain was represented by Sir Charles Eliot, a former diplomat in Petrograd, and France by M. Regnault, their ambassador to Tokyo. This Council brutally disarmed the Russian officers who were suspected of revolutionary tendencies. In the meantime, the Czech General Gajda was capturing Chita; along the length of the Trans-Siberian Railway he was arranging mass shootings and floggings of the peasants, and proclaiming himself as Generalissimo of the Russian and Czechoslovak armies (September). General Stepanov wrote to General Alexeyev: ‘It appears that Japan, which lacks iron resources, will take: 1. Our Siberian coast, which is rich in iron ore; 2. Our part of the Chinese-Eastern Railway; 3. The port of Vladivostok and the Usuri territory.’ Japan’s designs still encountered the resistance of the USA. A. Denikin, Sketches of the Russian Turmoil (Ocherki Russkoi Smuty) (Paris, 1921-5), Vol.3.

[25] M.Y. Latsis, The Extraordinary Commissions for Struggle Against Counter-Revolution (Chrezvichainye Komissii po Borbe s Kontr-Revoliutsiei) (Moscow, 1921).

[26] A decree of 2 November regularized the structure of the Extraordinary Commissions. The All-Russian Central Commission (Vee-Cheka) was charged with the task of unifying and controlling all the local commissions, whose decisions it was empowered to quash. Its members were appointed by the Council of People’s Commissars; its chairman was a member of the Collegium of the Interior; and representatives to it were delegated directly from the Commissariats of the Interior and of Justice. Its principal members, apart from Dzerzhinsky, its chairman, were Latsis, Peters and Ksenofontov. The local Chekas were constituted by the Executives of the local Soviets and remained subordinate to them, though the appointment of their chiefs had to be sent for approval.

[27] Latsis, op. cit.

[28] In all, 12,733 persons were executed in 1918, 1919 and 1920, over the whole of Russia. These official Cheka figures, which are admitted to be an underestimate, can serve only as an indication of the true picture. Evidently they summarize only the organized, controlled and systematized activity of the Commissions. It must also be realized that the civil Revolutionary Tribunals also applied the death-penalty. [W.H. Chamberlin (The Russian Revolution, 1917-1921 (London, 1935), Vol.2, pp.74-5) discusses the figure of 12,733, which must be a gross underestimate even of ‘organized’ Cheka activity; he concludes that a total of 50,000 killed would be more probable for the Red terror in the civil war period of 1918-20.]

[29] A. Mathiez, La Revolution Française (Paris, 1922), Vol.3, p.88, on the terror.

[30] A figure given by M. Aulard. A reactionary historian, M. Jacques Bainville, concludes, despite his bias, that ‘Regardless of its atrocious follies and its ignoble executants, the terror was an expression of the nation. It enlarged the energy of France in the time of one of the greatest dangers she has ever known.’ (Histoire de la France (Paris, 1924))

[31] In reality, the terror has been going on for centuries. From the Middle Ages till the coming of the bourgeois revolution it was the normal régime imposed by the possessing classes on the poor. According to. Thomas More, 70,000 thieves, big and petty, were executed in England under Henry VIII. Under Queen Elizabeth vagabonds were being hung at the rate of 300 to 400 a year. In France ‘under Louis XVI (ordinance of 13 July 1777) any fit man aged between 16 and 60 who lacked means of support and had no profession could be sent to the galleys’. (See Marx’s Chapter 24, On Primitive Accumulation, in Capital.) The French law currently in force considers vagabondage (defined as the state of being without lodging, work or the means of support) as an offence punishable, if repeated, by ‘relegation’ to a penal colony, i.e. by a life-long penalty scarcely distinguishable from forced labour. See Victor Serge, The Problem of Revolutionary Repression, in Les Coulisses d’une Surête Generale (Paris, 1923).

[32] See the memoirs of Roman Gul, Icy Marches (Ledyanoi Pokhod) (Berlin, 1922).

[33] L. Trotsky, Sur Lenine (Paris, 1926), Chapter 5.

[34] N. Lenin, Collected Works (London, 1969), Vol.27, p.344.

Last updated on: 7.2.2009