[The role of the Czechoslovak Corps in the civil war and intervention has given rise to an extensive literature. Bunyan’s hook (see note to p.271) contains relevant documents. Recent accounts include: Bradley, J.F.N., Civil War in Russia (1975); Fic, V.M., The Bolsheviks and the Czechoslovak Legion: The Origin of the Conflict, March-May 1918 (1978); Fleming, P., The Fate of Admiral Kolchak (1963); and Parrott, C., The Bad Bohemian: The Life of Jaroslav Hasek (1978).]
THE CZECHOSLOVAK MUTINY – Communiqué of the People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs (May 29, 1918)
ORDER BY THE PEOPLE’S COMMISSAR FOR MILITARY AFFAIRS (June 5, 1918)
THE MASTERS OF CZECHOSLOVAK RUSSIA (August 14, 1918)
For months the Czechoslovak Corps has been trying to leave Russia. The Commissariat for Military Affairs has, for its part, taken the measures needed in order to enable them to do so. A condition was imposed in this connection: the Czechoslovaks were to surrender all weapons except a small quantity of rifles for each echelon, required for guard purposes. The movement of the echelons proceeded without hindrance, with full co-operation from the local Soviets. The Japanese landing at Vladivostok and the offensive by Semyonov’s bands made it impossible for the echelons to continue their eastward progress. The People’s Commissariat halted the movement so as to investigate the possibilities for routing the Czechoslovaks through Archangel.
Meanwhile, counter-revolutionaries, among whom the Right SRs played the leading role, carried on a disgraceful demagogic agitation among the Czechoslovaks, persuading them that the Soviet power was hatching some sort of dark conspiracy against them. Some of the commanding personnel of the Czech echelons, including Russian officers, were directly linked with the counter-revolutionaries in an organized way. It was revealed that the echelons were not honoring conscientiously the requirement to surrender their arms, but were keeping back a considerable portion. The demagogy and provocation of the counter-revolutionaries led to a number of conflicts, which in some places developed into veritable military operations.
The People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs informed all the interested parties, and the Czechoslovaks first and foremost, quite precisely and clearly, that the Soviet power entertains the most friendly feelings toward the mass of the Czechoslovak workers and peasants, who are the brothers of the Russian workers and peasants. However, the Soviet power cannot tolerate a situation in which the Czechoslovaks, con fused by reactionary scoundrels, White Guards and foreign agents, have seized railway stations by armed force and used violence against the Soviets, as happened at Novo Nikolayevsk. The Military Commissariat has issued an order for immediate and unconditional disarmament of all Czechoslovaks, and shooting of those who resist by force the measures taken by the Soviet power. At the same time, the Military Commissariat again declares and confirms, in the name of the Government as a whole, that the Soviet power entertains the most friendly feelings towards the Czechoslovaks and, for its part, will do everything necessary to enable them to leave Russia in the shortest possible time. But this depends on their complete and unconditional surrender of all arms and strictest submission to the instructions of the People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs. Until this has been done, the People’s Commissariat’s order for ruthless action against the mutineers remains fully in force. A sufficient number of troops have been moved in from the Urals, from Central Russia and from Siberia to crush the mutineers and deprive the counter-revolutionary plotters once and for all of any desire to draw persons they have fooled into mutiny against the Soviet power.
The fate of the Czechoslovak workers and peasants rests in their own hands.
At the end of March I gave permission for the Czechoslovak echelons to travel towards Vladivostok, where they were to have embarked for France. The condition laid down for this movement was that the Czechoslovaks must surrender all their weapons except for a certain amount needed for internal guard purposes.
At the beginning of April the Japanese landed at Vladivostok. Their further intentions were not known. Consequently, it was not possible to ascertain whether the Czechoslovaks would be able to take ship at Vladivostok. In accordance with the Government’s instructions, I halted the movement of the Czechoslovak echelons, and explained to the representatives of the French military mission, and also to the representatives of the Czechoslovak National Council who came to see me, that the halting of the movement of the Czechoslovak echelons was not at all a measure inspired by hostility to the Czechoslovaks, but was due exclusively to the new political and strategic situation in the Far East. At the same time, I proposed to the representatives of the National Council, Messrs. Maxa and Cermak, that they induce the British and French Governments to state formally that they were prepared to receive the Czechoslovaks aboard their ships at Archangel and Murmansk. For my part, I undertook to dispatch the Czechoslovaks to those places, within a definite period to be decided by negotiation. Although Messrs. Maxa and Cermak promised me to provide within a few days such an official declaration by the interested governments of Britain and France, I received no communication of this kind. In a private exchange of views with Mr. Lockhart, the British plenipotentiary, I showed him the need for the British and French Governments to take a definite decision regarding the Czechoslovaks, since it was quite impossible to hold these men for months in their echelons, especially during the summer. Mr. Lockhart was unable to give me an answer, merely pointing out that the question of available shipping was very critical, and he did not know whether the British Government would be able to send the number of vessels needed. Thus, the matter remained quite unsettled for no fault of the Soviet Government’s, but solely for the following reasons: on the one hand, the Japanese landing at Vladivostok, and, on the other, the lack of any definite statement by the Governments of Britain and France.
This indefinite and protracted state of affairs was exploited by counter-revolutionary elements in the Czechoslovak Corps itself and by their allies among the Russian bourgeoisie and reactionary Russian officers, who did all they could to foster a false interpretation of the situation and encourage among the mass of the Czechoslovaks the suspicion that the Soviet power was going to betray them into the hands of the Germans. I have already, in writing, described these rumors as absurd, and such as only scoundrels could spread and fools could believe.
In view of our failure to receive any reply from Britain and France, I put the following proposal to the Czechoslovaks, through Comrade Aralov: in case the continuation of their journey should be rendered impossible – that is, should Britain and France fail to take them off in their ships – they would be given full opportunity to remain in Russia and to choose the occupations most suited to their training and inclinations: that is, either to join the Red Army, or to form themselves into workers’ co-operatives, or to serve in guard companies, etc., etc. This proposal had, of course, nothing compulsory about it: its purpose was to offer the Czechoslovaks a solution to their problem in the event that, through no fault of the Soviet power, their journey out of Russia should prove impossible of accomplishment.
All these proposals and declarations, which were inspired solely by concern for the interests of the Czechoslovaks, were interpreted by the counter-revolutionary plotters, demagogues and intriguers as evidence of hostility towards the Czechoslovaks and served for sowing among them distrust and enmity towards the Soviet power.
This resulted in an unprecedented incident, when the Czechoslovak echelons took up arms against the Soviet power, seized railway stations and even assumed governmental authority in certain towns. Naturally, the Soviet power cannot tolerate such a situation. In full agreement with the central government, I, as Commissar for Military Affairs, ordered the immediate and unconditional disarmament of all the Czechoslovak echelons and the shooting of any Czechoslovak who refused to surrender his weapon voluntarily. In the same announcement I promised, in the name of the Government, to give every assistance to loyal Czechoslovaks, both as regards their leaving Russia and as regards ensuring the livelihood in Russia of those of them who should willingly choose to stay. All these declarations and orders continue to remain fully effective at the present time.
This means: first, the Czechoslovaks are to pledge them selves to surrender, completely and unconditionally, all the weapons in their possession: secondly, I pledge myself, on behalf of the central Soviet Government, to do everything in our power to enable the Czechoslovaks to leave Russia in the shortest possible time, through some port or other, regarding which a practical agreement must be reached with the representatives of the Czechoslovaks and the representatives of Britain and France: thirdly, the echelons must be accompanied by commissars representing the Czechoslovaks themselves, the French and the Soviet power.
The Soviet power assumes responsibility for the complete security of the Czechoslovaks and for supplying them with the means of life.
This statement is being handed by me to the representative of the Czechoslovak Corps Vaclav Neubert, who is guaranteed free and unimpeded movement for the purpose of informing all the Czechoslovak units of this answer.
At the same time I declare and confirm that, until reports are received from Soviet institutions that the Czechoslovaks are surrendering their arms, military operations and concentration of forces against the mutineers will not be called off. The order for shooting Czechoslovaks found armed and refusing to hand over their arms is to remain in full force: also to remain in full force is the order that any unit in which a weapon is found is to be confined in a concentration camp.
In view of the repeated question by the representative of the Czechoslovak Corps, Vaclav Neubert, regarding the possibility that the Czechoslovaks may be handed over to some enemies of theirs, I declare that the very putting of such a question shows utter misunderstanding by the leaders of the Czechoslovak Corps of the principles and policy of the Soviet power, and is utterly misplaced and unworthy. The offer of Russian citizen ship was made precisely so that, in case Britain and France should decline to take the Czechoslovaks, all those of them who so desired might live, quite freely and without any sort of restriction or restraint, upon the territory of the Soviet Republic. I repeat once more that to suspect the Soviet power of wanting to do some harm to, or, still worse, to commit some act of treachery against Czechoslovak workers and peasants who are prepared to sacrifice themselves for their ideas, is something of which only utterly confused people are capable, when they have been corrupted by the demagogy, lies and slanders of Russian counter-revolutionaries.
In answer to Vaclav Neubert’s supplementary question, I make clear that, after their arms have been voluntarily and conscientiously surrendered, no Czechoslovak unit will be disbanded. Of course, anyone who wishes may remain in Russia. We cannot and will not compel anyone to leave by force of arms. But all units that wish to leave will do so in the state in which they exist at present, that is, as formed military units.
In answer to Vaclav Neubert’s question as to whether Czechoslovak soldiers who voluntarily surrender their arms may expect any punishment, I say: only those elements, that is, those individuals, will be called to account who are proved to have previously entered into definite agreement with Russian or other counter-revolutionaries, or who deliberately deceived the Czechoslovak masses, provoking their outbreak. As for the entire mass of the soldiers of the Czechoslovak Corps, who were led into mutinous acts by the ill-will of particular demagogues and counter- revolutionaries, none of them who voluntarily surrender their arms will suffer any sort of punishment what so ever.
This statement does not, of course, apply to the units which will now be forcibly disarmed by Soviet troops. The order for the shooting of those found armed remains fully in force where they are concerned.
May 31, 1918
The concentration of our forces has been completed and unity of command on the Volga, Ural and Siberia-Omsk fronts established.  Fully aware that the Czechoslovak mutineers are direct allies of the counter-revolution and agents of imperialism, the Soviet troops are fighting heroically against them. Hard-pressed from behind and hemmed in on either flank, the Czechoslovaks are rushing along the line of the railway. An obvious ferment has begun in their ranks. The more conscious elements realize the disastrous character of their outbreak and show desire to enter into negotiations with the Soviet forces. I have decided to authorize the front commanders to receive envoys under a flag of truce from the Czechoslovak echelons. An obligatory condition for negotiations is surrender of all arms by the Czechoslovaks. Those who do not voluntarily hand over their arms are to be shot on the spot, in accordance with the order previously given. Echelons which have been forcibly disarmed are to be confirmed in concentration camps. In view of the fact that military operations in the railway zone are hindering the movement of goods trains carrying foodstuffs, I order the commanders-in-chief of the three fronts to act with all vigor so as to liquidate this shameful adventure as quickly as possible.
Published in Izv.V.Ts.I.K., No 113 June 5, 1918
Soldiers of the Red Army! The enemies of the workers and peasants have raised a revolt. Ex-General Krasnov is restoring the Tsarist regime in the Don area and opening the gates for foreign invasion. The criminal rebel Dutov is advancing his black bands against the workers and peasants in the Ural region. The agents of foreign capitalists have, by means of bribery, lies and slander, raised our Czechoslovak prisoners-of-war in rebellion against the Russian workers and peasants. On the Don, on the Volga, in the Urals, in Siberia the landlords, capitalists and reactionary generals are lifting their heads. The Right SRs and Mensheviks are acting in concert with them.
Soldiers of the Red Army, the Council of People’s Commissars orders you to crush the counter-revolutionary bands and wipe the enemies of the people off the face of the earth!
Order and discipline must reign in all units. All orders by commanding personnel must be carried out unquestioningly. I order commanders to report to me all feats of revolutionary heroism and military valor. I shall publish these cases, giving names, for the information of the whole country. Let every town and village of workers’ and peasants’ Russia learn who is a renegade and who is a true and honest son of the people.
Cowards and traitors must be cast out and crushed.
All the honest workers and peasants of all Russia will come to the aid of the brave.
Long live the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army!
Published in Izv.V.Ts.I.K., No.121, June 15, 1918
The revolt by the Czechoslovaks, which has disorganized transport and food-supplies and aroused false hopes in the hearts of the enemies of the Soviet Republic, at home and abroad, must be put down as soon as possible.
However, among the military specialists, the former officers who have entered the service of the Soviet Republic, together with examples of honest performance of military duty, there have been observed some instances of evasion of the fulfillment of orders arising from the tasks of combating the Czechoslovak mutiny. Those concerned try to claim they were not called up to wage ‘civil war’.
The majority of the Czechoslovaks are prisoners-of-war taken by us. While on the territory of the Soviet Republic they received pay from one of the foreign governments. Through deception they retained, and then through mutiny they seized, weapons which should not be in their possession. They are trying to get control of the Trans-Siberian railway, the country’s most important artery of food-supplies. They are trying to link up with Vladivostok, whence we are under threat from a landing by foreign imperialists. The Czechoslovak mutineers are thus an instrument of foreign occupation and of the enslavement of the Russian Republic. Under these conditions, only traitors and accomplices of foreign aggressors can hide behind the expression ‘civil war’.
I declare that the Soviet power will tolerate no evasion or argument on the part of military personnel in face of the enemy. AU scoundrelly and rotten elements who look without concern or indignation upon the mutiny by prisoners-of-war acting as mercenaries in foreign service, against the freedom and independence of Workers’ and Peasants’ Russia, will be struck down, and those guilty of resistance will be crushed.
This warning is the first and the last.
Published in Izv.V.TsJ.K., No.121, June 15, 1918
Comrades, the Soviet power has no right, and neither has the Party which is the leading party in the Soviets, to conceal or embellish the actual state of affairs in the revolution. The old slogan given us by one of the most militant socialists of the past epoch, Ferdinand Lassalle – say what is; declare and tell the masses that which is the case – is also the basic rule for every really revolutionary politician, and is therefore also our rule.
And, with strict observation of this rule, it has been shown to you here that what is now happening on the Volga, in the shape of the Czechoslovak mutiny, puts Soviet Russia in danger  and therefore also endangers the international revolution. At first sight it seems incomprehensible that some Czechoslovak Corps, which has found itself here in Russia through the tortuous ways of the world war, should at the given moment prove to be almost the chief factor in deciding the questions of the Russian revolution. Nevertheless, that is the case.
In order to provide a full exposition of events I will briefly recall the circumstances and causes of the appearance of this corps on the Volga and in the Urals. This is also necessary because around this matter lies and slanders, on the one hand, and ignorance, on the other, are weaving rumors which are being exploited by our enemies.
The Czechoslovak Corps consists in the main of former prisoners-of-war from the Austrian army. And for characters having [?] the patriotism and national dignity of our bourgeoisie, how symbolic in this respect are the facts I mention, that when former prisoners-of-war, released by us, are now sitting on the necks and on the backs of the Russian peasants and workers, the entire bourgeoisie gloats and gives them money, with the intention of finding support from the brilliant Czech officers.
Such is the national dignity and self-respect of the despicable bourgeoisie.
The Czechoslovak prisoners-of-war, who in their time, under Tsardom, were interned in Siberia, were released, and already at that time strove to get to France, where they had been promised the earth but where in actual fact it was intended they should die in the interests of the French stock-exchange. The Russian Tsarist government, for reasons that do not concern us, refused to let them go. In Kerensky’s time they again applied to leave for France, but again without success. During the Germans’ summer offensive in the Ukraine, the Czechoslovak Corps was there (it was formed in the South), armed from head to foot. Though they had been organized to fight against German imperialism, the Czechoslovaks were ready to retreat without fighting, merely because, in the Ukraine, fighting against the Germans would have meant fighting for the Soviet power. While this Corps did, in certain circumstances, and in a formal way, help in organizing the fight against German imperialism, it proved, in any case, to be incapable of fighting for the workers and peasants of the Ukraine and Byelorussia.
So, withdrawing without a struggle from the Ukraine, the whole Corps entered the territory of the Soviet Republic. Here the representatives of the Corps approached the Council of People’s Commissars and the People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs with a request that we let the Czechoslovaks go to France. We replied that if this request did not proceed from the French military mission and the commanding personnel, if this was the desire of the soldiers themselves, then we would not hold them back, provided they gave up their arms, which, having been taken from the Tsar’s arsenals, belonged to us. The Czechoslovak corps sent delegates to conclude an agreement, and permission was given. The soldiers were disarmed, but, through insufficient attention on the part of our authorities, not all the arms were handed in: a considerable number of machine guns and rifles were left, hidden in straw and mattresses.
Movement of the echelons was effected, along the Trans-Siberian line in the direction of Vladivostok, without any hindrance, until April 4 [The text has ‘July 4’ for the date of the Japanese landing, but this is evidently a mistake for ‘April 4’.], when there appeared in our port on the Pacific Ocean a Japanese landing party which consisted, to start with, of four companies. We did not know how rapid would be the build-up of Japanese forces, which, in principle, could occupy our territory right up to the Urals and beyond. And, to amplify the inner significance of the event, we must say that of all the Allied countries which most insistently demanded Japanese intervention in the war, striving to hurl against the Germans a fresh army half a million strong, it was none other than bourgeois France that demanded and wanted this more than any other. It was none other than bourgeois France, which supported the Czechoslovak Corps with the milliards of its stock exchange, that was sending this corps eastward. And now a precise conjuncture of events occurred: in alliance with the French bourgeoisie and in pursuit of its own robber interests in the Russian Far East, the Japanese landed their expeditionary force and established a link between the Czechoslovak Corps and their units.
The Soviet power was ready to put up the most vigorous and sharp resistance to the invasion by the Japanese hordes (here our chief defense lies in our great spaces), which were advancing from Vladivostok towards Chelyabinsk.
Meanwhile, the Czechoslovak Corps, which was stretched out along the Trans-Siberian line as far as Vladivostok, was in a position, at a signal from the French stock-exchange and the Japanese General Staff, to seize this railway and prevent us from barring the way to the Japanese, who would then advance rapidly, by express train, to the Urals, and through them. Under these conditions until the question of the Japanese landing at Vladivostok had been clarified, we were obliged to halt further movement eastward by the Czechoslovak echelons and this we did. And as soon as we had done this, I summoned, acting on the instructions of the Council of People’s Commissars, the representatives of the French mission and the British diplomatic mission, on the one hand, and, on the other, the representatives of the Czechoslovak National Council, Professors Maxa and Cermak, whose roles in this conspiracy against the Russian people were not the least important. I told them that we now lacked the right to send the Czechoslovaks through our own country to the Far East, but we considered it possible to send them to Archangel or Murmansk (at that time, of course, the Anglo-French landing had not yet taken place):
however, we needed to have confirmation from the official representatives of Britain and France that they were really willing to receive the Czechoslovaks and prepared to provide the means of transport needed for their conveyance. We were not in a position ourselves to convey the entire Corps to its destination, and, owing to the shortage of foodstuffs in the North, we could not maintain it on the coast for an indefinite period. In short, we had to have a firm guarantee that Allied transport would be provided in good time. I was given my answer by General Lavergne [The text has ‘General Sveri’, which must be a muddle for ‘General Lavergne.’], who is present here, and the British plenipotentiary Lockhart who, if I am not mistaken, is on his way. They both said that they could not give the guarantees I had requested, because the question of sea transport is now very complicated and difficult, and they could assume no responsibility for it. I pointed out to them that, through their agents and through the Czechoslovak National Council, they were calling on the Czechoslovaks to go to France, promising them the earth if they went there, and blaming us for not letting the Czechoslovaks go: yet, when we raised in a practical way the question of how the Czechoslovaks were to be transported, they answered evasively. Lavergne and Lockhart replied that they would consult their governments and then give me their answer. Week after week passed, month after month, yet no answer came. And now it is as clear to us as can be, both from the papers which were seized at the office of the Czech National Council and from the statements and depositions given by many White Guards under arrest, that what we had here was a malicious, carefully worked-out plan. The essence of this plan was that the imperialists of France did not want a superfluous Czechoslovak Corps, but that for them it was ten times more important to have the Czechoslovak Corps on Russian territory, directed against the Russian workers and peasants, thus creating the nucleus around which the White Guards, the Monarchists, all the bourgeois elements scattered about the country, and so on, could group themselves. This plan, devised long before, was put into effect at a signal given from Chelyabinsk, where a conference of representatives of all the units of the Czechoslovak Corps was held. Our telegraph operators have provided me with the text of a telegram sent by this congress to the French military mission at Vologda, in which, despite the evasive language used, the fact that a rising against the Soviet power was being prepared emerges quite clearly. In the telegram they say that everything is ready, they are pulling their echelons back from East to West, and concentrating their forces. This refers (if my memory does not deceive me) to May 25 or May 22, that is, to a date preceding that on which the Czechoslovaks rose in open revolt at Chelyabinsk, and subsequently in other places as well.
Thus, the actions of the Czechoslovaks took place in the setting and according to the arrangements of a definite Anglo-French counter-revolutionary plan. It was about then that we received from abroad a warning that the British were planning to make their first landing at this same time, with the aim of establishing their forces along the Murman coast. It may be said, of course, that we, the Soviet power, are to blame for having passively watched this mutiny being prepared passively, because we did not have a sufficiency strong and disciplined army that was ready, on receipt of a formal order, to concentrate in a particular area at a particular moment and go over to the offensive. In order to organize and arm the workers and peasants, to make them capable of launching an offensive given their lack of training, their slight, inadequate experience and that fatigue of which Comrade Lenin so rightly spoke here [See Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.28, p.29: ‘The Russian people’s state of extreme war fatigue’], it was necessary that they be inwardly filled, saturated, with awareness that there is no other way, that they should understand that the Czechoslovak mutiny, with everything that surrounds it and has grown up around it, does actually signify in the true sense of the word, a mortal danger for Soviet Russia.
In order that such a feeling should be created in the country it was necessary that events should develop in a certain way, and from the beginning of these events we did everything we could to ward off the danger. And here it must be said that in the initial period we did not receive even from those local Soviets that were closest to the events that had occurred over there along the Trans-Siberian Railway and up to Chelyabinsk, the’ response that we had the right to expect. The local Soviets did not appreciate the full scope of the diabolical conspiracy. Among them were Soviets that were so faint-hearted that they tried to pass the Czechoslovaks on into the responsibility of neighboring Soviets which were, perhaps, stronger. All this was due to the fact that there was no full and clear awareness that it was not a question of misunderstandings at Syzran, Penza and Chelyabinsk, but a question, in the direct and immediate sense of the word, of life and death for the working class in Russia. And the Czechoslovaks had to seize a whole series of towns and provide a point of support for the White Guards and monarchists, and the latter had to carry out compulsory mobilization of the adult inhabitants, on the one hand, and, on the other, requisitions and confiscations in favor of the landlords and capitalists, before the Soviet elements in the localities concerned, at Omsk, Chelyabinsk and the entire zone near the front, realized clearly what was happening and before the people at large started to realize that the die has been cast for Russia: either we vanquish the Czechoslovaks and all those around them, or they will destroy us.
And this poor appreciation of the importance of the moment, on the part of the conscious sections of the population was, in the last analysis, reflected also in the consciousness of our Red Army units. We have sufficient armed forces to employ against the Czechs, and we are now, of course, transferring to the front such substantial forces as will, together with those which are there already, outnumber the Czechoslovaks by at least two or three to one.
But, comrades, by itself this is not enough. Thanks to the diabolical scale of the conspiracy and the conduct of the Czechoslovak officers – and their commanders are extremely chauvinistic – the Czechoslovaks have put themselves in a position where they must either fight to a finish or else go under. Among them there are elements that know the Soviet power will not punish the blind, ignorant, deceived workers, and still less the peasants, but only those guilty of this conspiracy and actively participating in it: the professors, officers and NCOs and the more hardened and corrupt among the soldiers. These elements now reckon that there is no escape, that they must fight to a finish. This gives them the energy of despair, the energy of helplessness, and, besides that, they are surrounded by a crowd of Russian bourgeois and kulaks who create about them a milieu which, though not very extensive, is nevertheless sympathetic. As regards our Red units, they consider that they are at home, and that though the Czechoslovaks are capturing one town after another, the possibility still exists that the Czechoslovak question may be solved by propaganda and agitation. This is the reason for the extremely protracted character, in one way and another, of the operation, which has this disadvantageous aspect for us, that we are cut off from Siberia, our principal and fundamental source of foodstuffs, so that the working class throughout the country is in a state of severe hunger. And thus, weighing the relation of forces, our morale and that of the enemy, the general food situation in the country, the need, as quickly as possible, to purge Siberia and restore it to the bosom of Soviet Russia, the inadmissibility and dangerousness of a long-drawn-out operation – we must decisively alter in our favor the situation which has been created. How are we to do this?
Our Red Army units lack the needful moral and military cohesion, because they have not yet been tempered in battle, and even though there are among them many soldiers who have been in battle as individuals, as military collectives they are, as a whole, in need of organizational, disciplinary and moral influence. If the units lack the old-style military bearing, this may be replaced by clear and distinct consciousness of the iron necessity of fighting. In the given case, the absence of military, mechanical discipline is compensated by the discipline of revolutionary consciousness. Here, in this hall, we number some two thousand persons, or more, and the overwhelming majority, if not all of us, share the same revolutionary view point. We are not going to make a regiment out of you, but if we were to be transformed this very day into a regiment, armed and sent off to the front, I think that it would not be the worst regiment in the world. Why? Because we were trained soldiers? No, because we are united by a definite idea, inspired by firm consciousness that, at the front to which we were being sent, history is putting the question point-blank, and there we must either conquer or die. This is the consciousness we have to create in our Red Army units. Naturally, they cannot by one wave of somebody’s hand be lifted all at once to the political level of the Central Executive Committee, the Moscow Soviet and the factory committees of Moscow, but within each regiment and each company we must and can create a firm nucleus of Soviet people, of Communist revolutionaries. This nucleus, though small in numbers, will be the heart of the regiment and the company: in the first place, it will be able to mistake, and to pass on to the masses, a correct estimate of each situation, and in dangerous situations it will not let the unit run away, it will support the commissar or the commander, it will say:
’Stop! This is a matter of life and death for the working class’...
Comrades capable of going into each unit and forming a close nucleus of five to ten members can be found only among the most conscious workers. And we have them both in Moscow and in Petrograd. Moscow has already furnished some two or three hundred agitators, commissars and organizers, a considerable number of whom have gone into Red Army units. But Moscow will, I am convinced, furnish twice as many as that. You, the organs of Soviet power, and you, the factory commit- tees, look around you: everywhere, in the districts, in the trade unions, in the factory committees, you will find comrades who are now performing work of first-class importance but who are more urgently needed at the front, for, if we do not overcome the Czechoslovaks, that work they are doing, and all the forces of the factory committees, the trade unions and so on, will go for nothing. We must overcome the Czechoslovaks and White Guards, strangle the serpent on the Volga, so that all the rest of our work may possess meaning and historical significance. You are required to furnish some hundreds of agitators – first-class, militant Moscow workers who will go to the front, join the units and say: ‘We shall stay with this unit till the war is over: we shall go into it and carry on agitation both among the masses and with every individual, for the fate of the whole country and of the revolution is at stake, and, whether there be an offensive, a victory or a retreat, we shall be with the unit and shall temper its revolutionary spirit.’ You must and you will give us such people, comrades! I was talking yesterday on this very subject with the chairman of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, Comrade Zinoviev, and he told me that the Petrograd Soviet has already supplied a quarter 9f its membership, that is, about two hundred, sending them to the Czechoslovak front as agitators, instructors, organizers, commanders and fighters. In this lies the fundamental condition for the turn that we have to bring about. What the old armies provided through months of prolonged schooling, correction and drill, which mechanically forged a unit, we have to provide, as I have already said, spiritually and by ideological means, introducing into our army the best elements of the working class, and this will fully ensure our victory, despite our weakness where commanding personnel are concerned. We have irreproachable, devoted commanders at the lowest level, but only at the lowest level, of the military hierarchy. Where higher commanding personnel are concerned, we have too few officers who are devoted to the Soviet power and who honestly carry out their obligations: worse still, as you know, some of them have actually gone over to the enemy’s camp. There have been several such cases lately. Makhno went over on the Ufa front, and Bogolovsky, a professor at the General Staff Academy, went over almost at once when he was appointed to the Yekaterinsburg front. He has disappeared, which obviously means that he has fled to the Czechoslovaks. In the North the former naval officer Veselago has sold himself to the British, and a former member of our White Sea commissariat has also gone over to the Anglo-French imperialists, and has been appointed by them to the command of armed forces. The officers seemingly do not take full account of the acuteness of the situation which is created for us not only by their past but also by their present. You all remember how harshly the soldiers and sailors of the old army dealt with their officers at the critical moments of the revolution.
Since power passed into the hands of the workers and peas- ants, we have opened the doors to experts and specialists in military matters, so that they may serve the working class as in the past they served the bourgeoisie and the Tsar, but a considerable section of the officers evidently think the situation is changing in their favor, and they are mounting adventuristic conspiracies and openly going over to the camp of our enemies.
The counter-revolutionary officers, who make up a substantial section of the old officer corps, are creating the conditions for embittered and justified hostility and hatred on the part of the worker masses towards their conspiratorial elements, and suspicious distrust towards officers generally. I think that the hour is near, and perhaps has already arrived, when we shall have to curb these intriguing, prancing officers with an iron curb. We shall make a list of all those ex-officers who are not ready to work voluntarily at the creation of the workers’ and peasants’ army, and, for a start, we shall shut them up in concentration camps. Comrades, when British imperialism set about crushing the Boers of South Africa under its iron heel, it set up such camps for these Boers – for the farmers themselves and for their wives and children. Now, when our officers are fraternizing with British imperialism, we shall remind these allies of the imperialists precisely of the British concentration camps. At the same time, we shall call on the comrades in the Soviets, the Party organizations and the trade unions to mobilize from among themselves, as quickly as they can, all those comrades who have had some experience of command. All who know how to command even the smallest units must be placed immediately at the disposal of the Commissariat for Military Affairs, so as to be posted to the Czechoslovak front. You, Soviet and trade union organizers, must take all the combatants among you, all who have been NCOs or ensigns, and send them all, without exception, to the Czechoslovak front. Their place is now not here, in civilian jobs: we need to have our own commanders in the small units, for practice has shown that if there are genuine Soviet commanders in charge of the small military units, we need fear no higher commanders – though, I ought to note, in passing, that if we observe suspicious conduct on the part of any officer who has been entrusted with powers of command, then, needless to say, the matter is plain and simple, the guilty man must be shot. But it is not a matter of how matters stand in the rear, whether close to the front or far from it. There is no-one in a high commanding position who has not a commissar on his right and another on his left, and if the specialist is not known to us as a man who is devoted to the Soviet power, these commissars are under orders to be vigilant, not taking their eyes off this officer for one moment. But we do not have, as we ought to have, military commissars actually at the front itself, in order to assume responsibility and superintendence, so that there may be at the front, to the right and to the left of each specialist, a commissar with a revolver in his hand, and so that, if these commissars perceive that the specialist is wavering and betraying, he may be shot in good time.
The French revolution also started with very little, and it also had to enlist officers from the old army, but it laid down a condition binding upon them: either victory or death. We put the choice in the same way before those whom we sent to the Czechoslovak front. And so that this may not remain without foundation, we need to have in every unit, in every headquarters and organization, our own Soviet people, for whom this war is their war, the war of the working class, and who will not be held back by any dangers. We need to bring about a turn in another profound sense.
During these eight or nine months of Soviet power it has been our habit to deal too lightly with our opponents in the civil war. Until recently this policy always worked for us. We smashed the bands of Alekseyev and Komilov in two ticks, with small detachments of Baltic sailors or Red Guards from Petrograd and Moscow. As a result, we now have comrades who served in those Red detachments but who are now occupied with Soviet work: they sit in their sacred offices which, to be sure, are Soviet offices – and read reports about actions at the front. Such ‘base’ feelings are manifested, we observe, also among many commissars: not all of them, alas, have that revolutionary tempering which is invincible in struggle, when it is necessary to be able to sacrifice one’s life or to make others sacrifice theirs, for what is at stake is what is highest for us, the fate of the socialist revolution. To our shame, there have been cases when certain commissars were not the last to abandon a town. At times when the commissar, like an honorable captain, ought to be the last to leave the ship, or else go down with it, there have been comrades who, at the first sign of danger, took to their heels and fled to a safe place.
The military commissar, appointed by the Soviet power, holds a post which has very great powers and responsibilities, and it is no empty saying that the military commissar must be of a high standard, for the commissar’s position is one of the highest that the Soviet Republic can confer. The commissar is the representative of the armed forces in the country, and this is a great power, because it decides on whose side power lies. And whoever among the commissars does not feel that he possesses strength, tempering and selflessness should get out: he who assumes the title of commissar must lay his life on the line!
I have to say, comrades, that in some provincial cities the local Soviet authorities and institutions are also not always up to the mark. There have frequently been cases when the Soviet has been among the first to be evacuated, withdrawing to some other, safe town a great many versts away, and waiting there peacefully for the Red Army to recapture for it the residence it has abandoned. I declare – and this view is common to the whole Soviet power – that this cannot be allowed: that, if the Soviet army has lost a town, then it is, to a considerable degree, the fault of the local Soviet and of the military commissar, and it is incumbent upon them to do their utmost to recover that town. Whether as agitators or as front-rank fighters, the members of the Soviet of a town which has been captured by the Czechoslovaks must be at the front, in the foremost firing-line, and not vegetating peacefully in some backyard. I am here emphasizing the negative aspects just because we must; above all, say what is, and these negative aspects do exist. And besides, we are assembled here not for the purpose of lauding the many particular instances of heroic conduct in the struggle – there have been such instances at the front, and they are increasing – but for the purpose of finding resources and, in a consistent, practical way, improving the situation on the Czechoslovak front. But I cannot refrain from mentioning what Comrade Raskolnikov has reported to us about the heroic fight put up by one of our armed vessels on the Volga, which perished heroically.
You see, our Baltic sailors now on the Volga – and their numbers are increasing all the time, we are arming an ever larger number of steamships, and we hope that more powerful guns than three-inch ones will make their appearance on the Volga – are conducting themselves as becomes the revolutionary calling of the Red Baltic Fleet.
There have also been examples of magnificent valor on the part of Red Army units. But the state of the units is chaotic, many things about them are not as they should be, and their heroic breakthroughs do not result from a single, common, fundamental effort, because for such an organized effort there is not yet everywhere the awareness that what is at stake at the front is life or death for the working class, and therefore for the whole country. True, our situation has, by and large, improved in every respect. I mentioned that we have created on the Volga a big and strong naval flotilla, which will soon make the White Guards and Czechoslovaks aware of its presence. We have also sent army units there which, along with those already on the spot, will give us a tremendous superiority in armed force. We must ensure that we have this superiority in armed force. We must ensure that we maintain that superiority in moral force which is ours by right, for we are defending the cause of the working class and not that of the French and British bourgeoisie. This moral superiority can be ensured only by living people, by representatives of the working class from our best urban industrial centers. And we are now, in addition to all the measures of which I have spoken, proceeding to a further mobilization of workers, to supplement the cadres of our workers’ and peasants’ Red Army. This evening a draft decree is being tabled in the Council of People’s Commissars, for mobilizing in the immediate future, in the coming week, the workers who were born in 1896 and 1897 in the provinces 9f Vladimir, Nizhny-Novgorod, Moscow and Petrograd. You know, comrades, that we mobilized the workers in the cities of Moscow and Petrograd who were born in 1896 and 1897. They have already furnished examples of the sort of units that will be created. They will be our best units. Now Moscow is going to furnish another example, another model. We want to mobilize in Moscow the workers who were born in 1893, 1894 and 1895, and it is your duty, the duty of the district soviets, trade unions, factory committees and all labor organizations, to help us, in the factories, to carry through this mobilization. You must show the workers that it is their duty to submit to mobilization.
Such help is needed also in Petrograd, in our northern capital. Without your help and co-operation – but we are sure we shall have this – we cannot carry out this mobilization. Thanks to you we carried out the first mobilization splendidly, without a hitch, and you will now make it possible for us to carry out this second, somewhat wider mobilization. You will spread our influence throughout the province of Moscow and conduct the mobilization of the two age-groups, and we shall form several new divisions to help the divisions that are now on the Czechoslovak front.
We want you to understand clearly that the situation is serious. We have lost Simbirsk and Yekaterinburg. These are facts which bear witness to the extreme seriousness of the situation and to the circumstance that what we are fighting against is not small, scattered bands but a trained army, rein forced by Russian officers, who, while not distinguished by great talents, do, at least, possess great advantages. The danger is serious, and we must respond to this serious danger with a serious rebuff.
We can and we must understand this. It must enter into the consciousness of every worker, wherever he may be. It must be called to mind in connection with everything and, above all, in connection with the famine, for the Czechoslovaks and White Guards are blocking the gates of Siberia, through which we could be receiving grain. In the course of the next few days you must give us tens and hundreds of workers, you must take from their civilian jobs those who have had previous military experience, and even though they are, perhaps, insufficiently experienced, you must place them all at the disposal of the War Department. You must facilitate the mobilizing of the three age-groups in Moscow city and the two age-groups in Moscow province. These are the practical tasks that confront us. I do not doubt that the workers of Moscow will give an example to their country and cope successfully not only with all the tasks that face them but also with the wavering, unstable Soviets on the Volga and in the Urals, and with the weak units which now will be able to find support from the will of the proletariat -- and this will lead us to victory, it is already half-way to victory. I have referred to the French revolution. Yes, comrades, we need to revive the traditions of that revolution, to the full. Remember how the Jacobins in France spoke, even while the war was still going on, about complete victory, and how the Girondins screamed at them: ‘You talk about what you are going to do after victory: have you then made a pact with victory?’ One of the Jacobins replied: ‘We have made a pact with death.’ The working class cannot be defeated. We are sons of the working class: we have made our pact with death and, therefore, with victory!
The joint session of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, the Moscow Soviet, the trade unions and factory committees, having heard the report of the representatives of the central Soviet power, has decided:
- To recognize that the socialist fatherland is in danger.
- To subordinate the work of all the soviets and other workers’ organizations to the basic tasks of the present moment: repelling the onslaught of the Czechoslovaks, and working effectively to collect grain and dispatch it to the places where it is needed.
- To carry out agitation on the most extensive scale among the worker masses of Moscow and other localities in order to explain the critical character of the time that the Soviet Republic is now living through and to explain the necessity, from the military standpoint and also from that of grain procurement, of cleansing the Volga and Ural regions and Siberia of all counter-revolutionaries.
- Strengthening vigilance in relation to the bourgeoisie, who everywhere side with the counter-revolutionaries. The Soviet power must safeguard its rear, placing the bourgeoisie under surveillance and practicing mass terror against it.
- With these aims in view, the joint session considers it necessary to transfer a number of responsible soviet and trade-union workers to work in the military sphere and in the sphere of grain-procurement.
- Every meeting of every soviet institution of any kind, every trade-union organ of the labor movement, and every other workers’ organization, will henceforth put on its agenda the question of practically implementing the most resolute measures for explaining to proletarian masses the situation which has come about and for effecting military mobilization of the proletariat.
- A mass campaign for grain, mass military training, mass armament of the workers, and concentration of all forces, for the military campaign against the counter revolutionary bourgeoisie, under the slogan: ‘Victory or death.’ This to be our general slogan.
Our Intelligence service recently intercepted some correspondence of French diplomatic agents, sent from Samara to Petrograd. This correspondence characterizes very strikingly indeed the masters of the situation there and their relationships among themselves. The French agents speak with unconcealed contempt of the Russian White Guards and the Czechoslovaks as tools of their schemes. Without them, without these choice representatives of the Paris stock-exchange, the Samara regime could not, of course, endure. They, the French, are everything, and from Samara their domination is to be extended over the whole country. Their influence is guaranteed, in every branch of public life. Everything and everyone will be subject to them.
This is the tone of these letters. As usual, in the camp of the bourgeois victors, in Samara many intrigues, internecine machinations, slanders, and so on, are developing. The French consul is at daggers drawn with the French military plenipotentiary, Jeannot. [The name index to the original Russian edition wrongly identifies this Jeannot with General Janin, head of the French military mission in Siberia, 1918-1920. In fact, he was a warrant officer who ‘assumed’ the rank of colonel and engaged in activities which led to his being sent back to France in disgrace. In order to deny supplies to Germany, the French representatives in Russia carried out an extensive purchasing program which provided opportunities for dishonest elements in their own ranks and for local peculators linked with them. See J.F.N. Bradley, La Legion Tchechoslovaque en Russie, 1914-1920 (Paris 1965) and Pierre Pascal, Mon Journal de Russie (Paris 1975).] We consider it will be very instructive to quote an exact translation of the letter from the French consul in Samara which figures in our files as document No.4.
’Monsieur Jean,’ the consul writes to his Petrograd correspondent (Ambassador Noulens), ‘Monsieur Jean denies the report that he has been appointed envoy, and says that his function is solely that of plenipotentiary representative of the French government for military affairs. In so far as I remain without official papers, I have to play the role of observer of all these fantasies. I cannot suppose that there is any foundation for them. The consequence is that my excellent relations with the General Staff [i.e., the Dutovite-SR General Staff] have suffered since Monsieur Jeannot’s return: thus, in the name of his military requirements he has deprived me of the motor-car which had been placed at my disposal, and announced that the consul must concern himself only with consular matters. On the other hand, I know, from indubitably reliable sources, that Monsieur Jeannot’s military activities have consisted in acquiring 200,000 poods of tin at Omsk, and in other pieces of business – for example, with caviar – in various regions of this country. His official powers serve merely to facilitate profiteering by the speculators who surround Monsieur Jean. He receives donations amounting to hundreds of thousands of rubles from financiers and merchants, and spends this money freely on remunerating his general staff and on payments to recruiters of prisoners, who have already exploited him extensively. Can this go on? Naturally, if you allow it to! I only want to be informed, and you will appreciate that in this isolated situation the question of authority dominates everything. I ought, actually, either to be the head of the mission, or else to be arrested. I do not think that Monsieur Jean is going to have me arrested, but he may announce that he knows nothing about my plenary powers, and then I shall suddenly find myself just an ordinary French citizen.’
So writes the consul. His chief secretary, in a long letter to a certain Jeanne, relates that Samara is the principal center from which all operations are henceforth to begin. ‘The richest merchant has placed at the consul’s disposal his country residence, which is a real palace (it cost about a million). I shall be mobilized at the consulate. Here in Samara they are expecting the Allies to arrive.’
It subsequently turns out, to our surprise, that this Monsieur the chief secretary, who is getting ready to manage the affairs of Russia, is a dancing-master at a girls’ school. He laments that war and revolution have killed the taste for dancing, and his lessons have become less numerous. But he is not downhearted. ‘As military operations develop, so my work will increase in the French military mission which will undoubtedly be established in Samara.’ ‘In Petrograd,’ the dancing-master diplomat goes on, ‘life must now be absolutely unbearable. Here we have everything.’
Later, the author of the letter invites Jeanne, who is also a teacher of dancing, to come to Samara, promising her profitable work. ‘A high school is to be set up here, and if you were here you would, of course, enjoy advantages over the Russians. Our country and our representatives will progress daily in the extent of their influence.’ ... ‘My position gives me, of course, many advantages’ ... ‘I attend, of necessity, all banquets and festivals, and have dined with Dutov himself.’ – and so on and so forth.
Such are the new masters of the situation, those very persons who are going to ‘liberate’ Russia. A French dancing-master, placing both feet on the table, tells his Jeanne that, from now on, the French will enjoy in Russia all advantages over the Russians. Monsieur Jean, in the name of his military tasks, buys up metal and caviar and makes hundreds of thousands from murky speculations. This mob of parasites are preparing to rule over and govern our revolutionary country. We must hope that very soon the broom of the revolution will sweep away the Franco-Czecho-White-Guard rogues, with all their dancing-masters and Jeannots, from every corner of workers’ and peasants’ Russia!
August 14, 1918
Izv.V.Ts.I.K., No.178, August 20, 1918
79. In order that the articles and speeches devoted to the Czechoslovak revolt may be better understood it is necessary to provide a brief historical account of the origins of the Czechoslovak Corps. Czechoslovaks living in Russia, who had emigrated there from Austria and were Austrian subjects, organised at the beginning of the War, so as to prevent their property from being confiscated, a first combat-group to fight against the Germans alongside the Russians. This group, consisting of four companies, was reinforced from among Czechoslovak prisoners-of-war, and by April 1916 had increased in size to two regiments, plus a four-company reserve battalion In Kiev. This activity was connected with that of the Czechoslovak National Committee in Paris, under Masaryk. France gave support to this committee, promising to establish an independent Czechoslovak Republic. Although the Provisional Goverment did not particularly trust the Czechoslovaks, under pressure from the diplomatic corps it allowed them to expand their formations further. The Czechoslovak Corps played an active part in the June offensive of 1917, after which it was stationed in the Berdichev-Kiev-Poltava area. The Czechoslovak Corps, and especially its commanders, reacted negatively to the October Revolution. One of their regiments even took part in the suppression of a workers’ revolt in Kiev. Subsequently, the Czechoslovak Corps began to act in obedience to direct instructions from the representatives of the Entente. The entry of the United States into the war put an end to France’s acute need for the Czechoslovak Corps to be transferred to the Western Front. On the other hand, the situation in Soviet Russia was so unfavourable to the Allies that they did everything they could to draw the Czechoslovaks into conflict with the Bolsheviks, so as to restore the Eastern Front against the Germans. The Czechoslovaks did not recognise the Brest treaty, and declared them selves a unit of the French Army on Russian territory. At first the Allies ordered the Corps to proceed to Murmansk, where means of transport were supposed to be waiting for them: this of course, not the case – the Czechoslovaks were to take part in the formation of a Northern Front. The Czechoslovaks continued to move eastward toward the occupation of Vladivostok by the Japanese, and their attempts to advance further, threatened serious complications in Siberia, and this circumstance compelled the People’s Commissar for Military Affairs to take a series of precautionary measures, which included a demand for complete disarmament of the Czechoslovaks. The latter, acting on orders from the Entente, regrouped themselves accordingly and began active operations against the Bolsheviks. The first armed uprising by the Czechoslovaks took place at Chelyabinsk. After this, the People’s Commissar for Military Affairs ordered that the movement of the Czechoslovak echelons be halted. On May 29, after a one day battle, Penza was taken by a large force of Czechs. On May 31 they advanced further towards the East, seizing towns and annihilating our forces. All the counter-revolutionary forces of the Urals and Siberia soon rallied round the Czechoslovaks. A Siberian Government was formed in Omsk, and in Samara the Mensheviks and SRs revived the authority of the Constituent Assembly: in Orenburg Dutov reappeared, while in the Far East the lead was taken by Semyonov and Horvath. A stubborn civil war began.
80. Unification of the forces operating on the Northern-Ural and Siberia Omsk Fronts was achieved by the formation of the Northern-Ural-and Siberia Front under the command of R. Berzin, with Nadezhny as military commander and Anuchin as military commissar.
81. The situation at thefront at this moment can be seen from Map no.2. After our surrender of Syzran on July 10 and Simbirsk on July 22, the Czechoslovaks moved quickly towards Kazan. The First Army withdrew to Kuznetsk-on-the-Inza, [Kuznetsk-on-the-Inza (not to be confused with the Kuznetsk, now Leninsk Kuznetsky, in Siberia) lies between Pema and Syzran. Buinsk is between Kazann and Simbrisk (now Ulyanovsk).] and up the Volga, at Buinsk, to its right, the Fourth Army was operating, covering Saratov. The Second Army, organised out of fighting squads from the town and province of Ufa, launched an offensive at the end of July from the Kama towards Bugulma [Bugulma lies between Simbirsk (Ulyanovsk) and Ufa, south of the Kama.], aiming to cut the railway between Simbirsk and Ufa. To the Second Army’s left, the Third Army, after giving up Yekaterinburg, retreated to Perm.
Last updated on: 16.12.2006