The Red Terror Arises From the Ashes of the Green and White Armies: Revolution, Civil War, and the Cheka

The Red Terror Arises From the Ashes of the Green and White Armies: Revolution, Civil War, and the Cheka

Paul Andreas Fischer


Professor Youngblood

The Red Terror Arises From the Ashes of the Green and White Armies: Revolution, Civil War, and the Cheka

As the rising dust of the peasant revolts superseded the omnipresent factory smoke both literally and figuratively as WWI faded into the Civil War, an early and thoroughly Marxist interpretation of the party’s agenda gave way to more pragmatic concerns. The early Bolsheviks’ program moved to adopt the peasantry into their program and address their concerns while consolidating power over state and electoral procedures. This was a development which established an interesting dichotomy in the structure of the Bolshevik party, avoiding co-operation with opposing Socialist forces within Russia and saved the Party from factions within Russia that wished a complete privatization of land and reversion to older practices. Both will be examined as distinct components of the socialist political machine in Russia during the Revolution and subsequent social and economic deprivation along with significant military atrocities.

The roots of Bolshevism rejected the presence of the peasantry in a post-revolutionary society entirely, as a position which operates outside of the normal range of functionality for a successful Communist state under conventional Marxist theory (Barker and Grant, 305-10). This is evident in early essays of Iosef Lenin as well as in his work which encourages the people of Russia to look towards the movement of the previous attempts at Revolution which he admits in his “April Theses” of April 1917 had placed power into the hands of the bourgeoisie as the proletariat lacked organization or class consciousness (Weinberg and Bernstein, 40-1). Already the “second stage” is identified as one which places “power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest strata of peasantry” which hints at later attempts to strike at the kulaks, a financially empowered minority of the peasantry accorded some rights by the imperial regime and Provisional government, but which posed a significant threat to the status quo, and would rebel in five districts (Weinberg and Bernstein, 83).

The status of peasant, however, is so ingrained into Russian culture and society that it was not possible to see a Communism rise in Russia without some critical new curtain of demonstration to the ideals which would be encouraged in the people; premature action by the “man in the street” could spoil the nation’s wealth and demand the impossible (Barker and Grant, 331-5). The significance of the peasant can be seen as self-evident in the cries of a peasant in the opposition of privately owned property in late 1917 (Weinberg and Bernstein, 48). That the very individuals who labor for the land live in poverty is a central theme in the work, and this correlates well the cries of the peasantry in Peasant Resolution in late October of 1917, the week before armed insurrection in Petrograd, which add to this a need for the peasantry to have access to basic necessities in addition to public ownership of the land (Rowley, 122-3).

In order to understand the peasantry in relation to the development of the Bolshevik party, some understanding of the characters in play must also exist. Leon Trotsky followed the fall of the Provisional government and aforementioned armed insurrection at Petrograd with urges to Bolshevik followers to allow their voting be their oath (Weinberg and Bernstein, 53). This was a hint at later despotic and dictatorial methods which would be utilized by the party including the establishment of the secret police, the Cheka. That secret police which expanded rapidly would represent part of the rapidly changing double-standard extant both in the party discussions as well as in opposition, a key development in which is to evaluate the role of the Civil War which would last until 1921.

The avant-garde architecture of Vladimir Tatlin, Model for the Comintern Building, which remains unbuilt, is tenuous in structure at best (Rowley, 128). Revolutionary society mirrored this gut-wrenching design at the time. The Cheka served the purpose of the fish-line in the design, which should only exist in the time of Civil War, and be invisible to the viewer’s eye. Instead they became dark and hideous, and among the most hated parts of the Bolshevik agenda. Discussion of the Cheka would be incomplete without discussion of the Kronstadt rebellion in which hundreds of sailors were executed and thousands imprisoned as dissatisfaction with the new rule was demonstrated in their proclamation “What We Are Fighting For” which bemoans the replacement of the hammer and sickle with the bayonet and barred window (Weinberg and Bernstein, 88-9). It would be best not to forget that criminal reform was a primary focus of the Revolution of 1905, and despite the first World War, remained critical to many members of the population’s satisfaction. Over the course of the organization’s early existence, in these first years of revolution hundreds of thousands were incarcerated and around 10,000 executed, which Lenin emphasized as critical to the struggle against “Counter-Revolution and Sabotage” but betrayed the reality of the Revolution and Civil War for the Working class (Weinberg and Bernstein, 67).

The commonly known White Army and Red Army were not the only positions during the Civil War, which saw many of the fears of Lenin, Trotsky, and other leaders of the Revolution play out to the tune of horrendous atrocities. A series of Menshevik newspapers detail the worst fears of both White and Red Armies which seemed to have no end, from the stealing of cattle to the wanton burning of significantly more than 10,000 tons of grain by villagers in rural areas (Weinberg and Bernstein, 46-7). Bringing the subject of this work to a head were the efforts of the “Green Army” led by A. S. Antonov and designated as terroristic in nature, but espoused some legitimate concerns of the population and felt the impact of Communist despotism directly (Weinberg and Bernstein 84-6). At Tambov these “Toiling Peasants” suffered an unknown number of casualties and punitive burning of several villages. Ironically enough, they directly conflicted in nature with the demands of the Peasant Resolution, perhaps due to the aforementioned famine and need for basic necessities, reaching the point that a report to the American President Hoover described communal consumption of dogs in bologna and sausage (Weinberg and Bernstein, 73), and demanded reinstatement of private property and a demonstrative elimination of Cheka-style justice. In order to understand the execution of 10,000 people and the atrocities of the war, some knowledge of the fears of Revolutionary leaders at the time had to be imparted.

It can be seen that many of these forces interacted with one another, and some basic conclusions must be drawn from the work. The Bolshevik Party developed a dichotomy of practices which included developing stages by which it justified repressive and also dictatorial processes that prevented internal factions from gaining excessive control of the nation. The most punitive of these, inspiring rebellion, have been discussed, and others include disruption of democratic procedures which would have profound effects on attempts to spread Communism across the world in later generations. The Party was also saved from an immediate privatization of land and elimination of the gains made on behalf of the working man by terrorist and anarchist organizations in Russia at the time, in part by the serious punitive nature of the actions.

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