Monthly Archives: February 2011

The USSR stabilises in the 1920s.

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The close of the Russian Civil War may be taken as any time from 1921-23. The USSR was established in 1922. After this the wrecked land began to stabilise. Pestilence stalked the blighted land. Hospitals had more or less ceased to be. They had been bombarded, burnt, looted and neglected. Many medical staff had left the country. Little medical equipment was functional and medicines were seldom to be had for love or money. The USSR did not have much of the wherewithal to produce drusg for herself and had precious little foreign exchange with which to buy such needfuls. A decade of destruction and slaughter had set the USSR back 20 years. Now it was time to try to climb out of the hole.

There was near starvation going on in the cities. This had been the case for some time. Peasants had little incentive to sell excess produce to urbanites as the official price was so low and black marketeering was severely penalised. Excess grain was normally turned into vodka. There were very few products or services in a city that the average agricultural would want or afford. Red Army requisition platoons patrolled the villages and demanded that peasants hand over food. Very little was forthcoming. Therefore the Red Army had to threaten and punish them. It was little different from armed robbery. That was certainly how most peasants perceived it. A law was promulgated that stated that anyone who informed on  a grain hoarder would be rewarded with some of that grain for himself. This yielded some positive results but nowhere near enough. Peasants handed over what they had an implored a disbelieving Red commissar this was all the food they had. Often the peasants claim was true. Eventually most of the top leaders of the USSR had to recognise reality. Coercing the peasantry into producing and handing over food was just not working. How could the state make it worth a peasants while to produce more and to sell it? Make the price higher. How much higher? Let the market decide. This was called the New Economic Policy or NEP. It would have been more accurate to dub it the Old economic Policy.

The NEP caused a most almighty row within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This was a return to capitalism, was it not? It was a betrayal of the cause of the workers. It would entrench exploitation. The peasants who did not willingly hand over their food to requisition platoons were petit bourgeoisie and must be punished as enemies of the people. Lenin argued for the NEP. The CPSU sometimes had to do things that were deeply distasteful. The CPSU had agreed to the loathsome Brest-Litovsk Treaty. It had been absolutely vital to saving the revolution. So too the NEP was necessary to arresting the ongoing starvation of the Soviet people. It was not just food supply that would be altered but all forms of production and service. With difficulty Lenin cajoled the CPSU into voting to allow the NEP.

Within months the NEP began to bear fruit. NEP men as they were known went out into villages, bought food and brought it back into cities to sell it at a handsome profit. NEP men were able to make good appear in the shops and to get services functioning again.

The USSR decided to make the most of its artistic heritage. Wealthy foreign capitalists were invited to the USSR to view and purchase treasures that had belonged to the Tsar and the nobility. This provided much needed hard currency as the rouble was almost worthless abroad. Many of this foreign art collectors were fellow travelers. If they were not grossly hypocritical rich people who espoused Communism they were often close to it. Of course a few were mere profiteers. Rather than let art rot in unappreciative philistine hands it was better to let it be valued by others.

The USSR’s effort to abolish illiteracy were quite successful. Books were sold more cheaply than bread.

The UK re-established diplomatic and trade relations with the USSR. The Communists were here to stay. Pique in refusing to recognise this fact would not undue the reality. Besides, there were some lucrative business opportunities to be had for the asking in the USSR. The USSR needed equipment to rebuild its industrial base.

Lenin had a stroke and had to recuperate in the countryside. For most Soviets healthcare was virtually non-existent. There was a severe shortage of medical staff, drugs and equipment. The apparatchiki was the new aristocracy. They did not let their egalitarian platitudes get in the way of obtaining the very best for themselves. Soviet medical care was seldom good enough for them. The Politburo often voted its members some weeks of rest cure in the most esteemed health spas and sanatoria in Germany and Switzerland. The top Communist officials had modest salaries but everything was provided to them by the state – clothes, food, housing and so on. The Politburo voted its members extra cash payments from time to time.

The press, stage and books were severely censored. They all had to glorify the CPSU and denigrate its opponents. For writers who extolled the manifold virtues of the Red liberation the plaudits and material rewards were handsome.

Lenin, in view of his condition, was contemplating posterity. He drew up his last will and testament. Who would come after him? He did not nominate an heir? Did he not see a decent one? Did he not wish to weaken his own position in the interim? Perhaps he wished there to be a collective leadership. He wrote scathingly of Stalin. His words on Trotsky were also acerbic. Of Stalin he said that he was too rude to have the paramount post.

Lenin recovered from semi-paralysis but never fully.

In January 1924 he suffered another attack of cerebral arteriosclerosis. He died.

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Gadaffi – will he survive?

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I rashly made predictions regarding the previous two Middle Eastern presidents who were in serious danger of being overthrown I shall not be so rash this time. I called it wrong. I said they would remain in office and they did not. I shall not be so foolish this time.

Rather than going in for inane macho guessing games let me candid enough to state that I cannot tell whether Gaddafi will survive in office or not. I had been telling myself that if anyone was going to stay in office it would be Gaddafi. He had been there for 41 years. His security apparatus is all-seeing. He is unrestrained by any regard for world opinion. He has found that ditching international terrorism and opening up to trade deals had made the West pay court to him. As we have seen Gaddafi has shown no qualms in ordering the slaying of hundreds of peaceful protestors.

There were rumours that he had skipped the country. His diplomats abroad began to defecting. I thought that these were people in the know. If they were abandoning him then he was doomed. They would not desert until they were sure he was going to fall. But rumours of his demise have been much exaggerated. His rambling discourse on telly was seen as a sign of his faltering grip on power. In fact he has always been erratic. His son Saif ul Islam is the acceptable face of the regime. His name means the sword of Islam. The explanation of father and son for the protests is as laughable as it is desperate. Al Qa’eda is behind it. True, Gaddafi is not a fundo though he will appeal to Islamist sentiment when it suits him – rather like Saddam in that regard. Gaddafi always banned alcohol – no exemptions for the high-end tourism industry that he encouraged. They claim that alcoholics are behind it. The protestors are thugs. Gaddafi is not a thug or anything. The water supply had been infiltrated with drugs by bad elements – that explains the protests.

I must admit that force has been used by the revolutionaries. Against an utterly vicious junta such as Gaddafi’s mob peaceful protest on its own cannot succeed. I am very reluctant to support violence and prejudiced against revolutions. I was opposed to ousting Ben Ali and Mubarak. However, I believe that this revolution is justified.

The state response – how much force is acceptable. Ben Ali did not go beyond. If reports are true and undercover Mubarakites stabbed the crowd are true then that is reprehensible. In Libya the state has gone far beyond what is permissible. About 300 died in Egypt. In Libya it is anybody’s guess. One report said 2000 have been mown down. Bear in mind Egypt has 80 000 000 people. Libya had 6 000 000. So let us look at the proportions. Gaddafi’s regime – if these figures are to be believed – is about 150 times  crueller than Mubarak’s. Moreover, the killing in Libya is over about 5 days or so not 20 plus days in Egypt.

Gaddafi by saying he will never give in has made his survival that little bit more likely. He is not willing to offer concessions. The trouble is those who had exposed themselves to oust him cannot stop now. If they do his secret service will track them down and kill them.

Saddam faced a major insurrection in 1991 right after his defeat in the Gulf War. I thought he would fall. He dug his heels in and crushed the rebels with great savagery. The same may yet transpire in Libya.

If Gaddafi falls maybe a big tourism industry will develop there. There will be many business opportunities. I will try to check it out. Will it be the UAE of the Med? Tourism in Libya now is only for those who pay a lot and it is high brow – seeing Roman ruins. One on one minders, sorry, I mean guides.

Gaddafi would be much missed by other anti-US states like Russia, China and Iran. They may offer him a bolt hole.

People talk about freezing assets and prosecution for human rights abuses. In a sense this makes the situation worse. If we want rid of him we must make flight an alluring option. You can go to another country and keep your ill-gotten millions. Making abdication seem dreadful causes tyrants to stand and fight – more people die in the fight and the tyrant may yet hang on to power. If he wins there will be an awful blood-letting  – revenge taken on the rebels.

The more a nation harps on about belonging to the people the less it does. Look at the People’s Republics of Korea, China etc… Libya has a grandiloquent constitutional title. The Great Libyan Arab People’s Socialist Jamahiriya. WHy not say Republic? Why use the ArABIC WORD Jamahiriya in English. What a mouthful. How bombastic. Gaddafi’s title is typically quixotic. Leader and brotherly Guide of the Revolution. Again like Kim Jong Il he does not hold the conventional titles of president or prime minister. In Libya no one is a servant – officially. They have no embassies – that would be bourgeois. They had peoples bureaux.

Look at the US banging on about the people – but of course half of them do not run and corporations are too dominant.

Gaddafi has such a cult of the personality that some people are genuinely attached to him. He has brain washed people for two generations. That has sunk in. He does have some diehard supporters. They have been forcefed the myth that the imperialists are behind every opposition movement. To kick out Gaddafi would bring back the fascist Italians. Therefore he does have some core supporters who will fight to the bitter end.

I suspect we are a tad naive if we think this Arab Spring will lead to model democracies all over.

It has made me recall the Eastern European Velvet Revolutions of 1989. These are no velvetine – these are bloody.

Remove the figurehead and a deep state may yet persist and fundamental change may be averted.

I do not think by any means every regime will fall. In Yemen the government will survive till the president survives. In Jordan and Iran the governments will survive. Bahrain I am not sure about. Saudi Arabia has virtually no civil society and there have been no protests there. Emiratis are happy with their wealth and do not wish to jeopardise it with elections.

Many Arabs do not want democracy. Omar Sharif said they prefer to go to the neighbourhood boss.

The foundation of the Soviet Union.

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The Communists soon gave lie to their much vaunted embrace of the notion of national self-determination. They conspired with Turkey to invade Armenia at the same time. Armenia was vanquished. The section of Armenia that was not given to Turkey was taken by the Bolsheviks. They incorporated it into the Transcaucasian Socialist Soviet Republic. This Transcaucasian S S R included what we now call Georgia and Azerbaijan. The Bolsheviks also established the Ukrainian S S R, the Belarussian S S R and the Central Asian S S R. Russia itself was a Soviet Socialists Federative Republic. Within Russia autonomous oblasts were created for minor ethnicities such as Tatars and Chechens. An oblast translates as district.

In 1922 the Ukraine, Belarus, Transcaucasia, Central Asia and Russia – all in Communist legal theory were fully independent sovereign states – pooled all their sovereignty together to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This was known as the USSR for short. It was also called the Soviet Union. ”Soviet” became the demonym and the adjective. Enshrined in the foundation treaty of the USSR was the right of any member state to withdraw at any time. The member states had their own flags which were all variations on that of the USSR. The flag of Russia was that of the USSR. The official language was Russian and the capital was Moscow. The national anthem was the Internationale.

In Central Asia Moscow’s authority was feeble to say the least of it. Enver Pasha, on the triumvirate who had led the Ottoman Empire to defeat – moved to Central Asia. He had at first promised to help the Reds. He then turned against them and led the Bashami Revolt. He dreamt of replacing the extinct Ottoman Empire with a Greater Turkic State in Central Asia. However, he was killed in a skirmish. After the close of the Russian Civil War the Red Army was able to send troops to Central Asia and establish control over the main cities. The Bashami Revolt was gradually squeezed. People in Central Asia grew tired of fighting. It took until 1931 before Moscow had fully put down the Bashami Revolt.

One of the few positive thing the Red Army did was to spread literacy. It taught its soldiers to read. Horsemen rode with Cyrillic letters on their backs so the rider behind could memorise it. Soldiers laughed at being taught from baby books. A teacher spontaneously came up with the phrase  ”Slaves we are not – we are not slaves.” This resonated with the soldiers. It became the basis of a Russian language primer. It was the first sentence that millions of adults ever learnt. Some of them were still alive in the 1990s.

Cyrillic was introduced as the alphabet of some of the non-Slavonic languages such as Kazak. These languages had previously used the Arabic script.

Literacy spread rapidly and books were sold very cheaply – more cheaply than bread. Classics of all languages were translated into Russian and published. The USSR did not recognise foreign copyright at the time and paid no royalties.

Divorce had previously been a long and costly process. It became available upon demand. Contraception and abortion were made freely available. The Communists flirted with the notion of ending the nuclear family as an expression of capitalism. Communism called for common ownership of the means of production. It seemed as though there would be common ownership of the means of reproduction. Aleksandra Kollontai was one of the few prominent Bolshevik women. She advocated free love. Lenin disliked the idea. She was made ambassador to Sweden. Her proposals were not pursued.

There were millions of orphans as a result of war and upheaval. The state cared for a few of them but many existed as street urchins and prostitutes.

Famine struck Russia just after the Civil War. Lenin appealed to the world to help. Many countries sent food aid. Foremost among these was the United States. An American businessman and engineer named Herbert Hoover contributed greatly. A Norwegian Army officer was sent to the USSR to try to organise the relief efforts. His name was Vidkun Quisling. He was horrified by the wretchedness he saw. It made him believe that Communism was satanic and must be resisted at any cost. He was not however against the Soviet people themselves and indeed married a Soviet citizen. When she later died his second wife was also a Soviet.

Why did the USSR suffer so greatly after the war? Millions had been killed. They were mostly young men – the most economically productive segment of the populace. Millions of horses and farm animals had been killed. Many factories had been destroyed as had coal mines. Machinery and railway lines had not worked in years. Education and healthcare had all but totally broken down. Many of the more educated people had fled the country. Those who had moveable capital had got it out of the country while they still could. Trade relations had totally terminated with other countries. Of course Russia had not traded with the Central Powers during the war and it had been very difficult to trade with the Allies. The only route for doing so was out of the Arctic. Coal production, steel production, food production and so on all fell to a fraction of their pre-war level. The fighting that lasted 8 years or so had set the USSR back at least a decade. In their effort to free people from poverty the Communists had plunged people into poverty more abject that ever before.

In 1922 a German delegation met the Allied Reparations Commission in Genoa in Italy. The Allies refused to let Germany defer her reparations payment despite German pleas that their economy was in tatters. A Soviet delegation was in Italy and invited the German representatives to meet them down the Riviera at Rappallo. Walther von Rathenau was one of those members of the German delegation. He was the German Foreign Minister. The USSR and Germany concluded the Rappallo Pact. They dropped all claims for reparations or territory arising from the Great War. They agreed to trade with each other. In a secret annex the USSR agreed to let the German military send men to the USSR to train in weapons systems that were forbidden to Germany under the terms of Versailles – submarines, tanks, planes and the use of poison gas. Despite the ideological differences the two international outcasts realised that they could help each other.

The USSR was a pariah state. The UK, France, the United States and several other countries refused to recognise her. They were still miffed over the Soviet repudiation of Tsarist debts. The independent states formed in Belarus, the Ukraine and so forth had governments in exile. There was no Russian government in exile despite White Russian emigres planning to return to liberate their homeland. Neither Kerensky nor any scion of the House of Romanov claimed to be the Russian head of state. Indeed there was great animosity between the liberal White Russians and those of a reactionary penchant. They even assassinated one another occasionally. Both blamed the other faction for losing the Russian Civil War.

The Cheka was the only part of the Soviet state that ran efficiently. State security was top priority. They winkled out opponents and either sent them to the Gulag or executed them. Gulag is an acronym for main camp administration. The Cheka sent agents abroad to infliltrate White organisations. Whites were lured back to the USSR being told that a popular uprising was imminent. This was then a chance to arrest, interogate under torture and shoot the Whites.

The Russian Civil War.

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The Whites were still seen as the righteous Russians by the Allies. The Allies were keenly aware that the Whites were pledged to continue the war against the Central Powers. Most Whites – especially those of a more conservative mindset – were primarily Russian nationalists. They were aghast at the treacherous and shameful manner in which the Bolsheviks had breezily signed away half of European Russia to the foe.

The Allies pledged their support to the Whites not only because they saw that the Whites said they were committed to the Allied cause but also because the Bolsheviks represented a revolutionary force that threatened the very fabric of society in every Allied country.

Huge numbers of weapons and copious amounts of ammunition had been landed by Allies – the United Kingdom chief among them – in the northern Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel. These armaments had been delivered to Russia in the earlier years to enable her to fight against the Central Powers. Owing to the chaotic state of the Russian transport network very few of these weapons had made it to arms dumps behind the Russian front line. The Allies were nervous that these great quantities of arms would fall into the wrong hands. A Red Army armed to the teeth rampaging west was a nightmare that haunted many a chancellery across Europe.

The Allies sent men to secure these arms – to put them into the hands of the Whites where they could and, where they could not, either repatriate or destroy them. In August 1918 the first British troops landed in the Russian Arctic.

British, French, Serb, Japanese, American, Australian, Canadian, Indian and Italian troops landed in Russia to support the Whites. The Japanese controlled the Russian Far East. It was an excellent chance for them to consolidate their grip on this zone as Russia was embroiled in internecine warfare. The Indian troops – minions of the Britannic Empire – were used in the Caucasus. Some South Africans also volunteered for the White side. The Reds who had – correctly – been painted as anti-nationalists then claimed that they were Russian patriots. The Reds said they were defending Russia against a host of foreign enemies. They accused the Whites of being hirelings of the invaders – selling out to foreign capital who had exploited Russia for so long. The capitalist powers were determined to protect their investments in Russia. The Bolsheviks had repudiated the debt run up by the previous regimes. Russia’s main creditor had been France. France herself had run up unimaginably huge debts during the Great War – owing $3 000 000 000 to the United States alone. France could not bear to see these debts abandoned. This was a touch hypocritical. After the French Revolution in the 18th century the new French Government had repudiated the debts of l’ancien regime. In time this had been accepted by everyone else. Why was revolutionary Russia not entitled to do the same thing?

The contribution of the foreign interventionists should not be exaggerated. Only about 150 000 foreign soldiers entered Russia at the time – besides the Poles. The benefit the foreign interventionists gave to the Whites was that they were well-disciplined and well-armed. There was a psychological advantage of having the world behind them. The British Army in Russia were ordered to simply train the Whites and not to engage in any fighting themselves. However, the British soldier did do some fighting. The contribution of a handful of British tanks was decisive at a number of battles since the Red Army had no tanks of their own.

Many prisoners from what we now called the Czech Republic and Slovakia had been taken by the Russian Army during the Great War. The Allies had formed Czech legions in France, Serbia and elsewhere. The Czech legions had included a sprinkling of Slovaks. The aim was to defeat the Central Powers and thereby enable a new nation forged from Slovaks and Czechs to be formed. Slovak and Czech prisoners in Russia were set free when they agreed to form a Czech Legion to fight against the Central Powers. Now that Russia was out of the war the Czech Legion was a powerful force. However, the Czech Legion wished to avoid entanglement in internal Russian controversies and to just get home. In October 1918 Czechoslovakia had been proclaimed as an independent nation. It was impossible for the Czech Legion to avoid becoming drawn into domestic disputes in Russian politics. The Reds would not let the Czech Legion out as they saw the Czech Legion as a tool of the British and French. Czechia was very industrialised and had a sizeable socialist and trades union movement. The Bolsheviks saw the Czech lands as being ripe for revolution. The Czech Legion was a bourgeois nationalist force. Therefore the Czechs were thrust into the arms of the Whites. The Czech Legion was highly united unlike most White Forces. The Czech Legion controlled much of the Trans-Siberian Railway. They fought very effectively on the White side.

As much of Russia was starving there were few ways to get enough food. For a young man one obvious meal ticket was to join an army – either side in the Civil War. The armies made feeding their men the priority – much more than feeding the civilian population.

The Reds held many cards. They controlled the capital, Petrograd, as well as the second largest city – Moscow. This was a psychological advantage as well as lending a spurious credibility to their claim to be the rightful government of the country. They were strong in a number of other cities in the centre of west Russia. These were the centre of industry. They therefore we able to manufacture weapons. The area under their control was geographically contiguous. They were able to communicate with each other and sent men from a quiet sector to a beleaguered front.

The Bolsheviks immediately stated their belief in the total equality of women. This won over many feminists who otherwise had their doubts about the Bolsheviks. They allowed women to rise to any position and to serve in the Red Army even as combat troops. It is true that, in extremis, Kerensky had allowed a few hundred women to enlist in the Russian Army before the October Revolution. However, this was very much the exception and the Reds made far greater use of womanpower than the Whites.

In March 1918 the Reds tracked down Grand Duke Mikhail, the Tsar’s only living brother, and assassinated him.

It must be stressed that the Whites were a very broad church but a very fractious one. The Whites included far left groups such as the SRs as well as ultra-conservatives who wished to restore the Tsar with full powers. For some outright reactionaries the rot had set in 1905 if not in 1861 with the abolition of serfdom. There was of course every shade of opinion in between. It was the right wing Whites who tended to get the publicity. This was because they had better contacts with Allied governments, predominated in the ranks of the naval and army officers and also because the Reds chose to emphasise the monocled aristocratic reactionary as the standard image of a White.

Defeat the Reds and what then? Restore the Tsar? As a figurehead or with full powers? Many Whites were utterly opposed to the restoration. After the death of Nikolai the Last there were a number of distant relatives of his whose rival claims had to be assessed. The issue of restoration receded. This was fortunate for the Whites as many ordinary Russians, especially urban workers, now loathed the Romanovs. The Reds insisted that the Whites were hellbent on bringing back full-blown Tsarism as prior to 1905. Despite claims to the contrary the Whites never adopted restoring Tsarism as a policy. This was for several reasons. Many Whites were SRs and therefore totally against Tsarism. Even then those who wanted a Tsar only wanted a constitutional monarchy. Which Romanov candidate had the best claim to the Throne? That was an open question. The issue of restoration was much too divisive among the Whites. All but the most blinkered reactionaries saw that the Romanovs were so unpopular that espousal of restoration would be a gift to the Reds. Despite never adopting bringing back the Tsar in any form as a policy the reactionary mannerisms of many White officers gave people every impression that the Whites were restorationists. Many White officers insisted on gold braided uniforms and court etiquette. They wasted time debating such pressing issues as whether to adopt spelling reform. Of course they elected to stick with the more antiquated form of spelling. Everything about them indicated conservatism.

A much bigger issue than the fate of the Romanovs was the one bread and butter issue for majority of Russians – land. Would peasants who had been able to seize property be allowed to keep a hold of it? The Whites still said no. Moderate Whites – SRs – wanted land reform but only after the Civil War and to be conducted in an orderly and equitable fashion. Some Whites were landowners who refused to consider land reform. They wished to reverse the land reform that had already taken place. Millions of peasants who might otherwise have been neutral and sometimes pro-White therefore had a take in ensuring White defeat. Discussing it years later with a former comrade Kerensky said that this policy of delaying land reform had been his cardinal error. ”If we had done it would be in Moscow now”. He meant that had he recognised the land reform that had already taken place the Whites would have won. Of course a few irredeemable reactionary Whites would have alienated by such a stance but that would have been more than balanced by the peasants it would have won over. Whites sometimes hanged trades unionists – again sending people into the arms of the Reds. White crimes against Jews meant that Jews had little option but to join the Reds for protection.

Because the Reds were militantly anti-religious those who were religiously inclined were naturally driven into the arms of the Whites. The Russian Orthodox Church was seen by the Reds as a form of reactionary psychological warfare on the peasantry and the proletariat. Churches were converted to other purposes by the Red authorities such as grain stores and museums of atheism. Monasteries and convents were raided and even razed to the ground. Priceless works of art were vandalised. Lenin was totally against religion but said that religion must not be persecuted. It must be allowed to shrivel up and die of its own accord when exposed to reason and mass education. However, Lenin’s acolytes took a more pro-active approach as we have seen. Orthodox priests and monks were very often murdered by Reds and nuns ravished.

Were the Whites to bring back Russian Orthodoxy as the state religion? For the reactionaries the answer was a resounding yes. For the SRs the answer was very definitely no. There can be little doubt that for many peasants who might otherwise have been pro-Red religion was a motivating force in making them resist the Reds.

Because the Whites were divided politically as well as geographically they did not work together well. The mistrusted each other and had radically different visions of how Russia should look after the defeat of the Reds. Had the Whites won there may well have been a second civil war between different factions of Whites. The Whites found it difficult to communicate. There were very few radios back then. A radio in those days was as large as a full size fridge is now. Moreover, there were extremely few telephones in Russia at the time. Telegraph lines often ran through Red territory so they were liable to be cut. Communication was often by rider as the postal service had long since broken down. Moreover, the railways were chiefly in Red hands. The railwaymen were mostly Reds as well as most rail junctions and train repair workshops being in Red hands. The Whites found it very difficult to co-ordinate attacks. The Reds were fighting on many fronts but so were the Whites.

Who was the Red leader? Any Red could answer that in a trice. Lenin. Without a doubt – unchallenged, supreme and dictatorial. It was Lenin. Soon his image was everywhere. Who was head of the Red Army? It was Trotsky, the People’s Commissar for War. He travelled Russia in his armoured train giving rousing speeches. Despite his lack of military experience he put mettle into his men. His savage discipline was effectual. He was canny enough to see that the Red Army needed experienced senior officers. The common soldiers and even the NCOs were mostly totally illiterate. The experienced officers of significant rank were mostly aristocrats and Tsarists. Some of these men saw the Reds as the ones defending Russia against a host of invaders. Brusilov offered his services to the Reds on this basis. Mikhail Tukhachevsky was another who did so. Other Tsarists officers who joined up were suspected of wishing to defect to the Whites the first chance they got. Did Trotsky actually trust his natural enemies? Of course not. He took the precaution of making their family members hostages. If such men deserted their children were shot. It was no idle threat. The Reds were no snobs and happily promoted rankers who showed promise of leadership potential. Marshall Gheorghi Zhukov – son of a furrier – was one such private to be promoted.

Who was the White leader? Admiral Kolchak. No, General Denikin. No, General Kornilov. No, General Wrangel. No Tsar Nicholas II. No, Alexandr Kerensky. Get the point? The Whites had no universally acknowledged leader. One’s leader depended on which sector of the front one was and to which faction one belonged. Nikolai II had been in Provisional Government custody until the October Revolution when he was seized by the Reds. They took him to Yekaterinburg, a small city in the Ural Mountains. He was accompanied by his family and a few retainers.

The Reds made considerable gains in early 1918, building on their impetus from the October Revolution. Their agreement to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk set back their popularity. Moreover, this was when Allied troops began to arrive.

In southern Russia the Volunteer Army was raised which was a White group. The Cossacks on the Don joined the Whites in great numbers. They had a free wheeling lifestyle and a personal devotion to the Tsar. This made them inimical to the Reds.

In the summer of 1918 the Reds were being pressed hard. It was increasingly obvious that the Central Powers were living on borrowed time. American troops were disembarking in France at the rate of 1 000 per day. The Allies would then be able to throw all their men against the Reds.

On the other hand the Reds had spread their message far and wide. The ceasefire on the Eastern Front had allowed Red propagandists to disseminate propaganda to Central Powers troops. Germany and Austria-Hungary both had large socialists movements before the war. Men who were once apolitical, non-socialist or even socialist went home committed Communists. Central Powers prisoners who had spent some years in Russia sometimes learnt Russian and were converted to Communism. A case in point is one Josip Broz. He was half Slovene and half Croat – a subject of Austria-Hungary. Such Prisoners of War were released sometimes and often escaped in the turmoil of the Russian Civil War. Communist notions caught on among the demoralised Central Powers troops. In the British and French Armies Communist ideas made small but significant inroads. In western Europe there was not such a sharp distinction between the moderate and extreme left. Parliamentary socialists in the UK tended to openly sympathise with the Reds despite the brutality of the Reds towards parliamentary socialists in Russia.

In July 1918 the Romanovs in Yekaterinburg were becoming a headache for the Reds. They were held at Ipatiev House – it was named after the engineer who built it. Ominously the Reds dubbed it ”the house of special purpose.” The Whites with the aid of the Czech Legion made a major advance towards Yekaterinburg. It seemed sure that the town would fall to the Whites. The Reds did not want the divided Whites to have a figure to rally around. Yakov Sverdlov in Moscow sent an order that the Romanovs be liquidated. In the middle of the night of 17/18 July 1918 the Romanovs were awoken and brought to the basement. They were told there was rioting in the town. They were lined up by a wall and told a photo was to be taken. Then a Latvian Red read aloud an order addressing the former Tsar as Nikolai Aleksandrovitch. It was announced that the Tsar and his family were to be immediately shot to death. The Tsar shouted ”oh my god!” and he, his wife, his five children and a couple of servants were all shot dead by several gunmen. There were diamonds sewn into the bodices of the Romanov daughters. These may have shielded them from the first few bullets but then a coupe de grace was administered. The bodies were dipped into acid and thrown into the Four Brothers Mine.

Rumours surfaced within days that a daughter had not died in the shooting. Most accounts say that this was Grand Duchess Anastasia. Her name means ”resurrection.” It was not until the 1990s that this claim was comprehensively proved to be bogus. A number of pretenders came forward. The most notorious was Fransziska Schankowska, a Polish factory worker of almost the same age as Anastasia.

Lenin approved of the slayings and had a hand in ordering it. Trotksy was not aware of it until after it occurred. However, he recorded his approbation in print. One should bear in mind that the Tsarevitch was 12 when his father was overthrown. Whatever guilt one attaches to Nikolai II no blame can attach to his son. The Tsarevitch was 13 at the time of his death. The Tsar’s servants were guilty of nothing. These are the best known cases and these examples are far from isolated. Total disregard for humanity was to be the norm for the Red Army. Trotsky praised the killings as necessary to demonstrate that there could be no going back to l’ancien regime.

The Reds announced that the Tsar had been shot but that his family were being kept safe. This helped to give rise to those false stories that one of his daughters did not die on that occasion. It was not for several months that the Bolsheviks announced that the rest of the Tsar’s family had also been shot dead.

The Whites when they took the town initiated an investigation. They found the bodies and reinterred them beside a road.

Yekaterinaburg was later renamed Sverdlovsk in honour of Yakov Sverdlov as he ordered the killings. It was held to be a glorious revolutionary act. Sverdlov died in 1919. He was Jewish though a disbeliever in all religions. His ancestry was used to exacerbate anti-Semitism. There was significant anti-Semitism among the Whites who made much of the fact that there were many Jews among the Red leadership. A number of White Guard units carried out atrocities against Jews. A lesser number of Reds did so too. It may seem illogical for Reds to do so as the head of the Red Army was a Jew. However, anti-Semitism was deeply ingrained in Russia. Many Reds may have believed that the claim the Trotsky was  Jew was a White smear.

Both sides used conscription and requistioned food, horses and other supplies. Trotsky ordered that hostages be taken and shot if villagers who had been conscripted deserted.

Many peasants said –  a plague on both your houses. They tried to organise militias to resist both sides who seemed to be no more than robber bands who mouthed some incomprehensible slogans. Politics was something for urbanites. What did it matter who reigned to people in a remote village.

The war was especially savage with torture and the killing of prisoners being commonplace. The Cheka conducted an enormous campaign of terror. Leather uniformed Chekists paraded the streets carrying banner reading ”Long live the Red Terror.”

In October 1918 mutinies and revolts swept Germany and Austria-Hungary. The red flag was hoisted in many cities. Lenin thought the hour of Communism had dawned. This was it. Communism would sweep the world! Goodbye capitalism! Down with national chauvinism.

In November the armistice between Germany and the Allies was signed. It seemed the Great War was over – seemed. It could begin again if Germany did not sign the treaty the Allies prepared for her. Would the Allies, as some feared, send all their men against the Reds? The only thing to do was to pre-empt this. World revolution! There were Communist uprising in Germany, Finland and Hungary. There were strikes in the UK – tanks were brought onto the streets of Glasgow and a soviet was formed in Limerick in Ireland. There were many protests in India and a horrendous massacre at Amritsar in India in April. In northern Italy several cities were temporarily controlled by Communists.

Public opinion in the Allied countries was very war weary. Many leftists had some sympathy for the Reds. Dockers in the UK refused to load ships that were sending men to crush the Reds. The Reds were gaining the upper hand. The US decided to end the Polar Bear Expedition. The US Army was also withdrawn from Russia. The UK also pulled her troops out of Russia. One by one so did other Allied countries. They had trouble at home and a wish to make economies. Allied troops were being affected by Red propaganda. The Allied troops were there to fight the Central Powers not the Reds –  they wanted to go home. They might mutiny.

In 1919 The Whites had made some considerable gains. A Civil War in Finland had resulted in White victory. The Finnish Whites were perilously close to Petrograd. They were commanded by a Finn who had formerly been an officer in the Tsarist Army –  Marshall Carl Mannerheim. Lenin remarked that if the Finns chose to march on Petrograd then farewell to any hope of Red victory. The Royal Navy controlled the Baltic and could easily ferry the White Finns across the Gulf of Finland too. In the event Marshall Mannerheim chose to keep his country out of the Russian Civil War so far as possible.

Poland had come back into being after having disappeared since 1772. There had been a very brief reappearance under Napoleon. Marshall Josef Pilsudski ruled Poland. He looked back to the 17th century when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ruled everything from the Baltic to the Black Sea. He wished to re-create Poland’s halcyon days. With Russia in the throes of a horrific civil war opportunities did not come much better than this. Belarus – the Ukraine as far as the Dnieper and even Russia as far east as Smolensk had all been Polish once. On to the Dnieper! In 1919 Pilsudski sent the newly formed Polish Army east to conquer as much as they could. France actively supported Poland providing weapons and military advisers. At first the Poles made rapid headway through war-torn Russia and reached Kiev. But the Poles had overextended themselves. Their supply lines were very long and vulnerable. The Red Army fought back. The Green Army, a Ukrainian independence movement, also fought against the Poles. The Black Army – an anarchist group in the Ukraine – disliked the Polish regime too. The Polish Army was driven back as fast as it had advanced. The Red Army pressed its advantage and closed on Warsaw. Lenin rubbed his hands gleefully. At last the revolution could move west. Surely the Polish labouring classes would welcome the Red Army as liberators and overthrow the reactionary militarists Pilsudski. However, Lenin’s ideology had blinded him to the reality. Very few Poles heeded the call to revolution. The Miracle of the Vistula was the battle where the Poles, at the eleventh hour, defeated the Red Army and sent them packing. The Red Army fled back to what we call the middle of the Ukraine. In 1921 the Treaty of Riga concluded the Russo-Polish War.

By 1920 all foreign soldiers had left. The Whites were clearly losing the war. General Wrangel evacuated his men from the Black Sea before its ports fell to the Red Army. Wrangel’s men and their womenfolk moved first to Turkey. Oh humiliation of humiliations. To seek asylum from the former enemy. As the Whites were boarding ships the Red Air Force flew over the town. They bombed it – with leaflets. The leaflets asked the Whites to stay. The war was over. Let bygones be bygones. All was forgiven. The Red Army gave its word of honour that the Whites who stayed behind would not be punished in any way. They would be allowed to join the Red Army and to build a bright future for Russians of all views. The promise of no vengeance was made in the strongest possible terms. A small number of Whites were persuaded. They decided to stay, to trust the Reds. The civil war was all but finished and it was time to work together for the good of Russia.

Those Whites who chose to remain behind soon found out that they had been very foolish indeed. The Cheka got to work on them torturing them horribly. They Whites were sent to labour camps or in most cases executed. That was what the Red Army’s word of honour meant.

Whites who fled moved to France, Germany, the UK, the United States, Serbia and China.

By March 1921 the Reds were clearly winning the war. Red Navy sailors who had put up with a lot for the cause felt that it was time to voice their complaints and no longer keep quiet for the sake of unity. The sailors on Kronstadt Island had been some of the most vociferous Bolsheviks. Kronstadt is an island just off Petrograd. The sailors demanded freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, no more forced labour, more equal rations, an end to party control of workers’ councils, the release of all socialist political prisoners and peasants to be allowed to farm as they wished.

The Communist leadership had no intention of yielding to these demands. Trotsky organised an attack on Kronstadt. Crucially the Kronstadt sailors had not waited until the ice melted. If they had the Communist leadership would have been hard pushed to find enough ships to take on the Kronstadt sailors. As it was loyal units of the Red Army could attack across the solid ice. After several days of hard fighting Kronstadt was stormed. Thousands of mutineers were sent to slave labour camps and thousands of others were executed. The Communist leaders would have no truck with any notion of democracy or pluralism.

Fighting slowed in 1922. In 1923 the last remnants of White resistance were snuffed out.

Tsunami and a dead pope.

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I dreamt a couple of days ago of wandering around some large but decaying stately home. I wandered in and out. It was like a low-key party was on. It was like my chum Matthias’ wedding in 2007. Men wore their finery. Oddly Ido not recall ladies present. I saw ARkady in his tail suit. Arkady – he went to Ascot this summer and I had been thinking about that before I slept. A wooded hill sloped up away form the house

I saw something like the moon shoot through the pre-dusk sky and I was very surprised. It happened a second time. Then I realised they were meteorites landing far away.

Then I found myself in the sea buffeted about by big waves. The water was not cold. Oddly I was not scared. I was with a slim Greek youth of about 20. I do not know who he was. We chatted cheerily. He wore no shirt. How did I know he was Greek? I realised the meteorites had hit and caused huge waves. I had been thinking a lot about the tsunami in my conscious life. I have some Greek clients.

 

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I was in some large Victorian brick house. It was commodious. I was on the ground floor in some waiting area. It resembled Norham Gardens. Later I was ushered into another ill-lit ground floor room. I saw there the Pope laid on a table – he was dead. I was not shocked. Maybe I was told beforehand. He wore his white cassock fringed in black. I think the black was a reference to his time in the Hitler Youth. I was indifferent to the Pope’s decease.

The Bolsheviks tighten their grip.

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Lenin was not well-known in Russia when he awarded himself the fine title Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars. Alexksandr Kerensky did not even bother to continue to call himself Prime Minister. This was odd as he was the rightful Prime Minister of the country and he could have co-ordinated the White war effort better if he had asserted his authority. As it was the Whites suffered terribly from a lack of central leadership. Lenin had himself filmed wandering around the garden of the Kremlin. This film was shown around the country so that people had some idea who their new autocrat was. Lenin was not materially greedy although he always managed to have a comfortable life without working. Lenin took over some of the imperial apartments as well as the Tsar’s cook – a certain Mr Putin, grandfather of the later president.

The Bolsheviks lost little time in establishing the Extraordinary All Russian Commission for Combatting Counter-Revolution, Extortion and Espionage or Cheka for short. Its members were called Chekists. It was headed by Count Feliz Dzherzhinsky. Dzherzhinsky hailed from what we know called Belarus. He was a Pole by ethnicity as were many people in the territory of modern Belarus at the time. Despite his ethnicity he embraced Greater Russia as his homeland. He did not reject or deny his Polishness but for him that was of secondary importance to the cause of the revolution. Besides, for him, Polishness could fit inside Russianness.

The Cheka was let loose on Whites of all kinds as well as black market traders. The Cheka was permitted to employ torture at will and they made full use of this. They ran summary sham trial and sometimes no trial at all before shooting suspects. Their victims were soon in their thousands.

The Bolsheviks declared that all minority ethnicities were entitled to choose for their homeland to go independent. If the Finns, who were already effectively independent, wished to declare full sovereignty that wish would be respected. The Bolsheviks appealed to the non-Russian peoples of the Russian Empire to remain in the State on the basis of ”a voluntary and honourable union.” However, as stated, any wish for separation would be honoured. In 1917 and 1918 many parts of the former Tsar’s empire declared sovereignty – Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia and so forth. Some of these declarations of independence – especially in the Ukraine and Belarus – probably lacked majority support. Of course we cannot tell for sure since no vote was held on the issue. Men with guns gathered in the putative capitals of this infant nation states and declared independence with little or no claim to legitimacy. It was very doubtful where the borders of any of these states were and who belonged to these new nations. Romania claimed Moldova. In Central Asia the Bashami Revolt carried on apace. The Russian State had long since lost any pretence of control over sovereignty. For most Whites this was  monstrous. They believed in the unity of Greater Russia and were appalled at any notion that Russia be sundered. There were some Whites, particularly SRs, who believed that ethnic minorities must be allowed to self-determine out of Russia. Of course the Central Powers had egged on separatists in non-Russian parts of the empire as a means of dividing and weakening Russia.

The Bolsheviks declared that their state was the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Bolsheviks in other parts of the former empire declared soviet socialist republics of their homelands. These were rival governments to those declared by non-Bolshevik nationalists. In Latvia the Bolsheviks were particularly strong. Lativa became independent but Latvian Bolsheviks often volunteered for service in Russia.

Was the Bolshevik policy of recognising the independence of non-Russian nations a smart one? On the one hand it earned them the acquiescence and sometimes the active support of separatists. On the other hand it alienated people who might otherwise have been neutral if not sympathetic. The Bolsheviks were  not sincere about recognising the legitimacy of these breakaway nations and over the course of the next three decades tried and succeeded in extinguishing the effectual sovereignty of all of these seceding states with the exception of Finland.

New Year 1918 dawned some days early for Russia. The Bolsheviks decided to adopt the Gregorian Calendar. In keeping with the backward looking mentality of the more conservative factions, the Whites kept to the Julian calendar. The Bolsheviks renamed their party from the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party to the Communist Party. Despite this name change the Bolsheviks often called themselves and were popular known as Bolsheviks. The word Communist did not become more popular for several more years.

The truce with Germany held. The Reds were concentrating on fighting the Whites in a rapidly developing Civil War.

Six weeks after the Bolsheviks had launched their putsch it was time to talk peace with the Central Powers. Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire all sent delegates. The Central Powers summoned Bolshevik delegates to the Polish town of Brest-Litovsk. A number of soirees were held for the two delegations. It made a bizarre sight. Mitteleuropa’s reactionary nobility treating with the radiciali of Russia. One diplomatic function called for a dinner jacket to be worn. Trotsky thought the sartorial matter to be sufficiently important to warrant a telegram  to Lenin about whether he should consent to wear a dinner jacket since that was the uniform of the haute bourgeoisie. Lenin telegramed back caustically that Trotsky had better wear a tutu if it would help the revolution. That was the bottom line – anything, however distasteful, must be done to help the revolution. They tried to impose terms on Red Russia. The Bolsheviks tried to stall as long as they could Trotsky quickly apprehended that the Central Powers would impose conditions that were catastrophic for Russia. He had a policy of ”neither peace nor war.” He would not agree to war as a Russia in the throes of a vicious civil war could hardly prevail over Germany – after all Russia was on the verge of defeat even before the civil war. He would not agree to peace as this would mean signing away boundless territories of great economic value.

However, the Germans would be fobbed off for only so long. After six weeks of negotiation the Bolshevik delegation could not bring themselves to sign a peace treaty that spelt disaster for Russia. The Central Powers had been hesitant to attack Russia for fear of uniting Whites and Reds in common defence of their homeland. However, the Bolsheviks must be taught that they could not exploit the ambiguity of neither peace nor war. American troops were landing in France at an ever-increasing rate. If Germany was ever to win on the Western Front she must win NOW or she never would. Therefore the war in the East must be concluded fast in order to free up Germany’s legions to wage war in the west. As the Bolsheviks were so reluctant to fight and as Russia was rapidly descending into total disorder the time was ripe to strike the fatal blow. In February the Central Powers declared the ceasefire at an end and continued their advance towards Petrograd. The Few Russian units that barred the way surrendered or fled. In six days the German troops advanced 150 miles. Realising that resistance was all but hopeless the Bolsheviks sued for peace. The Bolsheviks who were so committed to waging merciless warfare against their countrymen could not surrender fast enough to the nation that had attacked their nation.

Negotiations continued at Brest Litovsk. This time the Central Powers knew that Lenin would agree to just about any terms. Therefore the Central Powers pushed their luck and demanded rather more than they had before. The terms were so incredibly rapacious that the Bolshevik delegation was split on whether to sign. Lenin said that they should sign the treaty. He reasoned thus. If the Central Powers won the war then Russia would be no worse off than before. If, on the other hand, the Allies won they would annul the treaty not because they liked the Bolsheviks but because they did not want Germany to be powerful. Therefore there was nothing to be lost by signing and much to be gained by it. ”Our hands must be absolutely free to fight the bourgeoisie” he said. Trotsky had at first voted against signing the treaty as it bisected European Russia. However, seeing that the military situation made fighting on against the Central Powers an impossibility he, at a second meeting, voted to accept the treaty.On 3 March 1918 the treaty was signed.

The Bolsheviks signed away Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Poland, Moldova the western Ukraine and Belarus. Land in the Caucasus was ceded to the Ottoman Empire. These territorial losses accounted for 25% of the Russian Empire’s population, most of her agricultural land and much of her industry and 90% of her coal. The food and fuel situation in the rump of Russia was worse than ever.

The Whites seized on this as surefire evidence that the Reds were the lowest traitors of all time. The Reds had lived on German gold throughout the war and now had well and truly sold their country to their paymasters in Berlin.

The Red Army was now, however, ready to fight the Whites with no fear for a German enemy to the west. The Central Powers began transferring men like mad to other sectors. The Germans were preparing to launch Operation Michael later than month. It was their last-ditch attempt to smash the Allied lines before too many American troops landed. The Germans, however, left most of their cavalry divisions on the eastern front to try to establish control over these newly acquired territories. Western Ukraine and Belarus had descended into anarchy. The Germans wished to bring order so they could exploit this as their bread basket and ease malnutrition at home.

The delay in concluding peace with the Bolsheviks was crucial and may well have cost Germany the war. If they had offered more lenient terms in February 1918 it might have induced the Bolsheviks to sign Brest Litovsk there and then. This would have enabled the German Army to transfer its men from the Eastern Front to the Western Front six weeks earlier. This would have given them a small but perhaps decisive additional numerical advantage than that which they enjoyed in March 1918. Indeed perhaps the Central Powers ought to have struck a deal with the Provisional Government in March 1917 before the United States came into the war. The US may have then decided to stay out of the war altogether. If unrestricted U-boat warfare had not been resumed in 1917 then the US would surely have remained at peace. The Provisional Government was willing to make peace if the Central Powers had relinquished the territory that they had conquered since 1914. But the Central Powers’ greed overpowered their intelligence. However, this counter-factual digression is too much.

Russian airport dream.

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I do not remember the first chapter of the dream perhaps it shall come back to me. Anyhow I was in a car going to an airport in Russia. I was in a car with a few people. I do not known whom. I knew them but their identities were unimportant. I did not speak to them or even look at them – it did not seem odd at the time.

I was in the front passenger seat. It was on the left.

We had passed through one layer of security, probably in a terminal building but I do not remember that. Very oddly we were driving to the plane. It was daytime and the landscape was scrub – savannah. This is very odd for Russia!

Then our car wended its way around a dirt track with hairpin bends. Scree was scattered liberally on either side of the road.

Then someone said that the car behind was stopped. I did not know we were travelling on convoy. We and they were in four wheel drives. I looked behind and saw 4 or so men in dark masks surrounding the other vehicle and prowling somewhat bent over holding large white rocks in one hand each in a meaning fashion. They threatened to smash the windows and rob the people inside.

I do not remember how they got out of that one.,#

Later I was in a house with several people. It was a house with white-painted wooden doors and floorboards. There was a danger people would break in and rob us. It was night. I was scared. I thought of getting knives of all sorts especially kitchen knives and we in the house, women and men alike, arming ourselves against those who were threatening us from outside.

Later there was some notion of walking around the streets with knives for self-protection.