Ivar Smilga

Ivar Smilga


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Ivar Smilga was born in Aloja, Latvia in 1892. He joined the Bolsheviks and in 1917 he became chairman of the Regional Committee of the Russian Soviets in Helsingfors. His growing power was acknowledged when on 26th July, he became a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee. Other members included Lenin, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Yakov Sverdlov, Joseph Stalin, Victor Nogin, Alexei Rykov, Nickolai Bukharin, Alexandra Kollontai, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Leon Trotsky, Moisei Uritsky, Andrey Bubnov and Grigori Sokolnikov.

Smilga was a loyal supporter of Lenin and was one of those who favoured the overthrow of the Provisional Government. He was described by other leaders as a "young firebrand". The opposition was led by Lev Kamenev led the opposition to Lenin's call for the overthrow of the government. In Pravda he disputed Lenin's assumption that "the bourgeois democratic revolution has ended," and warned against utopianism that would transform the "party of the revolutionary masses of the proletariat" into "a group of communist propagandists."

On 19th July, Alexander Kerensky gave orders for the arrest of leading Bolsheviks who were campaigning against the First World War. This included Lenin, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Anatoli Lunacharsky, and Alexandra Kollontai. The Bolshevik headquarters at the Kshesinsky Palace, was also occupied by government troops. Lenin managed to escape and commented: "All hopes for a peaceful development of the Russian Revolution have definitely vanished. The objective situation is this: either a victory of the military dictatorship with all it implies, or a victory of the decisive struggle of the workers."

Lenin went into hiding in Helsingfors where he was protected by Smilga. On 12th September 1917, he took a message from Lenin to Petrograd. It included the following orders: "Without losing a single moment, organize the staff of the insurrectionary detachments; designate the forces; move the loyal regiments to the most important points; surround the Alexandrinsky Theater; occupy the Peter-Paul fortress; arrest the general staff and the government; move against the military cadets, the Savage Division, etc., such detachments as will die rather than allow the enemy to move to the center of the city; we must mobilize the armed workers, call them to a last desperate battle, occupy at once the telegraph and telephone stations, place our staff of the uprising at the central telephone station, connect it by wire with all the factories, the regiments, the points of armed fighting, etc. Of course, this is all by way of an example, to illustrate the idea that at the present moment it is impossible to remain loyal to the revolution without treating insurrection as an art."

Joseph Stalin read out the message. Nickolai Bukharin was one of those who attended the meeting: "We gathered and - I remember as though it were just now - began the session. Our tactics at the time were comparatively clear: the development of mass agitation and propaganda, the course toward armed insurrection, which could be expected from one day to the next.... The letter was written very forcefully and threatened us with every punishment. We all gasped. No one had yet put the question so sharply. No one knew what to do. Everyone was at a loss for a while. Then we deliberated and came to a decision. Perhaps this was the only time in the history of our party when the Central Committee unanimously decided to burn a letter of Comrade Lenin's. This instance was not publicized at the time."

Following the successful Russian Revolution Smilga lived with Stalin. According to Vyacheslav Molotov, a group of Bolsheviks lived together: "Stalin and I lived in the same apartment at that time. He was a bachelor, and so was I. It was a large apartment on the Petrograd side. I shared a room with Zalutsky, then there was Smilga with his wife, and Stalin joined us. It was a sort of commune we had there."

Smilga led the Seventh Army during the Russian Civil War. In March, 1919, General Alexander Kolchak captured Ufa and was posing a threat to Kazan and Samara. Smilga and Trotsky disagreed about the way to deal with Kolchak. "Vatzetis's point of view was that after our great successes against Kolchak we abstain from rushing too far into the East, to the other side of the Urals. He wanted the eastern front to stay at the mountains for the winter. This would have enabled us to withdraw a few divisions from the East and switch them to the South, where Denikin was getting more dangerous. I supported this plan. But it met with rigorous opposition from Kamenev, the commander of the eastern front and a colonel of the general staff in the Tsar's army, as well as from two members of the Military Council, both old Bolsheviks - Smilga and Lashevich. They insisted that Kolchak was so far defeated that only a few men were necessary to follow him, and that the most important thing was that he be prevented from getting a breathing-spell, because in that case he would recover during the winter and we would have to start the eastern campaign all over again in the spring." In 1921 Smilga also fought alongside Mikhail Tukhachevsky and the Fifth Army against the Polish Army of General Jozef Pilsudski.

In October 1923, Yuri Piatakov drafted a statement that was published under the name Platform of the 46 which criticized the economic policies of the party leadership and accused it of stifling the inner-party debate. It echoed the call made by Leon Trotsky, a week earlier, calling for a sharp change of direction by the party. The statement was also signed b Smilga, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, Andrey Bubnov, Ivan Smirnov, Lazar Kaganovich, Victor Serge, Evgenia Bosh and thirty-eight other leading Bolsheviks.

The statement included the following: "The extreme seriousness of the position compels us (in the interests of our Party, in the interests of the working class) to state openly that a continuation of the policy of the majority of the Politburo threatens grievous disasters for the whole Party. The economic and financial crisis beginning at the end of July of the present year, with all the political, including internal Party, consequences resulting from it, has inexorably revealed the inadequacy of the leadership of the Party, both in the economic domain, and especially in the domain of internal Party, relations."

The document then went on to complain about the lack of debate in the Communist Party: "Similarly in the domain of internal party relations we see the same incorrect leadership paralyzing and breaking up the Party; this appears particularly clearly in the period of crisis through which we are passing. We explain this not by the political incapacity of the present leaders of the Party; on the contrary, however much we differ from them in our estimate of the position and in the choice of means to alter it, we assume that the present leaders could not in any conditions fail to be appointed by the Party to the out-standing posts in the workers’ dictatorship. We explain it by the fact that beneath the external form of official unity we have in practice a one-sided recruitment of individuals, and a direction of affairs which is one-sided and adapted to the views and sympathies of a narrow circle. As the result of a Party leadership distorted by such narrow considerations, the Party is to a considerable extent ceasing to be that living independent collectivity which sensitively seizes living reality because it is bound to this reality with a thousand threads."

Isaac Deutscher, the author of Stalin (1949) has argued: "Among the signatories were: Piatakov, one of the two ablest leaders of the young generation mentioned in Lenin's testament, Preobrazhensky and Serebriakov, former secretaries of the Central Committee, Antonov-Ovseenko, the military leader of the October revolution, Srnirnov, Osinsky, Bubnov, Sapronov, Muralov, Drobnis, and others, distinguished leaders in the civil war, men of brain and character. Some of them had led previous oppositions against Lenin and Trotsky, expressing the malaise that made itself felt in the party as its leadership began to sacrifice first principles to expediency. Fundamentally, they were now voicing that same malaise which was growing in proportion to the party's continued departure from some of its first principles. It is not certain whether Trotsky directly instigated their demonstration." Lenin commented that Piatakov might be "very able but not to be relied upon in a serious political matter".

Smilga was vice-chairman of the Supreme Council of National Economy from 1921 and of the Government Planning Commission from 1924. Victor Serge met him during this period: "Smilga, an economist and former army leader who in 1917 had been Lenin's confidential agent in the Baltic fleet, was a fair-haired intellectual in his forties with spectacles, a chin beard, and thinning front hair, ordinary to look at and distinctly the armchair sort. He spoke for a whole evening in a little room to about fifty workers who could not move at all, so closely were they squeezed together. A Latvian giant with gingerish hair and an impassive face scrutinized all who came in. Smilga, sitting on a stool in the middle of the room, spoke, in an expert's tone and without one agitational phrase, of production, unemployment, grain and budgetary figures, and of the plan that we were hotly advocating. Not since the first days of the Revolution had the Party's leadership been seen in an atmosphere of poverty and simplicity like this, face-to-face with the militants of the rank and file."

In 1927 Smilga joined forces with Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Grigori Sokolnikov and Yuri Piatakov to challenge the power of Joseph Stalin. According to Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996): "The opposition then organized demonstrations in Moscow and Leningrad on November 7. These were the last two open demonstrations against the Stalinist regime. The GPU, of course, knew about them in advance but allowed them to take place. In Lenin's Party submitting Party differences to the judgment of the crowd was considered the greatest of crimes. The opposition had signed their own sentence. And Stalin, of course, a brilliant organizer of demonstrations himself, was well prepared. On the morning of November 7 a small crowd, most of them students, moved toward Red Square, carrying banners with opposition slogans: Let us direct our fire to the right - at the kulak and the NEP man, Long live the leaders of the World Revolution, Trotsky and Zinoviev.... The procession reached Okhotny Ryad, not far from the Kremlin. Here the criminal appeal to the non-Party masses was to be made, from the balcony of the former Paris hotel. Stalin let them get on with it. Smilga and Preobrazhensky, both members of Lenin's Central Committee, draped a streamer with the slogan Back to Lenin over the balcony." However, as Robert V. Daniels has argued: "After vainly challenging the party organization in a wide-ranging controversy over the future of the proletarian dictatorship, the opposition leaders were ousted from all their party posts."

Smilga and Karl Radek gave support to Stalin's policy of collectivization in 1929. As Roy A. Medvedev, the author of Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971) has pointed out: "Stalin produced a split among the Trotskyites in the spring of 1929, when some of them (Smilga and Radek, for example) decided to support Stalin on the grounds that he was adopting their program of an offensive against the kulaks and a swift rate of industrialization. Trotsky himself strongly opposed Stalin's new policies, declaring that they had nothing in common with the earlier proposals of his own group."

In 1933 Ivar Smilga was arrested and charged with being a terrorist. According to one source, when he was banished to Siberia, a demonstration of about a thousand people gathered at the railroad station to protest. It is believed that Smilga was executed in 1938.

Without losing a single moment, organize the staff of the insurrectionary detachments; designate the forces; move the loyal regiments to the most important points; surround the Alexandrinsky Theater; occupy the Peter-Paul fortress; arrest the general staff and the government; move against the military cadets, the Savage Division, etc., such detachments as will die rather than allow the enemy to move to the center of the city; we must mobilize the armed workers, call them to a last desperate battle, occupy at once the telegraph and telephone stations, place our staff of the uprising at the central telephone station, connect it by wire with all the factories, the regiments, the points of armed fighting, etc. Of course, this is all by way of an example, to illustrate the idea that at the present moment it is impossible to remain loyal to the revolution without treating insurrection as an art.

The first acute argument in the Central Committee took place in the summer of 1919, apropos of the situation on the eastern front. The commander-in-chief at the time was Vatzetis, of whom I spoke in the chapter on Sviyazhsk. I directed my efforts towards making Vatzetis sure of himself, of his rights and his authority. Without this command is impossible. Vatzetis's point of view was that after our great successes against Kolchak we abstain from rushing too far into the East, to the other side of the Urals. They insisted that Kolchak was so far defeated that only a few men were necessary to follow him, and that the most important thing was that he be prevented from getting a breathing-spell, because in that case he would recover during the winter and we would have to start the eastern campaign all over again in the spring. The entire question hinged, therefore, on a true estimate of the condition of Kolchak's army and rear. Even then I considered the southern front far more important and dangerous than the eastern. Later on this was fully confirmed.

Preobrazhenskv and Smilga were sent to us by the Moscow Center to unify the leadership of the two Leningrad oppositions. Preobrazhenskv had the broad features and short auburn beard that befitted a man of the people. He had driven himself so hard that during the meetings it seemed that he might at any moment drop off to sleep, but his brain was still fresh, and crammed with statistics on the agrarian problem.

Smilga, an economist and former army leader who in 1917 had been Lenin's confidential agent in the Baltic fleet, was a fair-haired intellectual in his forties with spectacles, a chin beard, and thinning front hair, ordinary to look at and distinctly the armchair sort. Not since the first days of the Revolution had the Party's leadership been seen in an atmosphere of poverty and simplicity like this, face-to-face with the militants of the rank and file.

In October oppositionists spoke out in Party cells at factories, calling for a debate. But they lost their nerve almost immediately, and acknowledged that their action had been "a breach of discipline." It was too late - Stalin was already hounding all those "October leaders" out of the Politburo. Zinoviev also ceased to manage the Comintern.
From that moment the opposition had nothing to lose. Battle was joined A savage battle in which they were doomed.

And so a year later, on the eve of the Fifteenth Party Congress, on the tenth anniversary of the October coup which he had organized, and in the state which he had founded, Trotsky was obliged to set up an underground press to print his program. He knew he would not be able to read it out at the Congress - the audience, obeying Stalin, would shout him down. The GPU, needless to say, knew what was afoot, and this was just what Stalin had been waiting for. The underground press became the excuse for the immediate expulsion of Trotsky's supporters from the Party, and the arrest of many of them. Trotsky delivered his speech at a routine plenum of the Central Committee. His words were barely audible; he was interrupted by oaths and abuse, and the speech was accompanied throughout by cries of "Down with him!"Get him out of here!" The same shouts drove Zinoviev from the platform. Stalin could be proud of himself The system he had created was functioning with greater precision from one day to the next.

The opposition then organized demonstrations in Moscow and Leningrad on November 7. And Stalin, of course, a brilliant organizer of demonstrations himself, was well prepared.

On the morning of November 7 a small crowd, most of them students, moved toward Red Square, carrying banners with opposition slogans: "Let us direct our fire to the right - at the kulak and the NEP man," "Long live the leaders of the World Revolution, Trotsky and Zinoviev." The GPU did its work, and a handpicked "public" soon attached itself to the column. Smilga and Preobrazhensky, both members of Lenin's Central Committee, draped a streamer with the slogan "Back to Lenin" over the balcony. Those marching in support of the opposition shouted "Hurrah!" The "toilers" immediately "acted in protest," blowing whistles supplied in advance, throwing tomatoes they just happened to be carrying. A group headed by the secretary of the district Party Committee, Ryutin, arrived by car and tried to break in through the locked door.

At the same time a Red army soldier climbed the sheer wall to the balcony and tore down the slogan, to the laughter of the mob. Ryutin and his companions found a way into the building and began assaulting the oppositionists. Ultimately they would all perish: the beaten - Smilga and Preobrazhensky - and the beater - Ryutin - alike.
Meanwhile loud shouts of `Bash the oppositionists' were heard from the crowd, and, more loudly still, `Down with the Yid oppositionists." Those demonstrating in favor of the opposition were first beaten up and then arrested.

These demonstrations did not help the opposition; on the contrary, they gave Stalin the pretext he wanted for final reprisals against its leaders. In November, 1927, Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the Party. Other members of the opposition were expelled from the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission. Then, in December, 1927, the XVth Congress confirmed the expulsion of Trotsky and Zinoviev and resolved to expel seventy-five additional members of the opposition, including Kamenev, Piatakov, Radek, Smilga, G. I. Safarov, I. N. Smirnov, Khristian Rakovskii, and M. M. Lashevich. The Congress also urged all Party organizations to purge their ranks "of all clearly incorrigible elements of the Trotskyite opposition." Trotsky was exiled first to Alma Ata and then abroad.

In the years following, almost all the leaders of the united opposition except Trotsky and sonic of his closest supporters were readmitted to the Party. But their will to fight had been broken. And although, at the end of the twenties and the beginning of the thirties, Stalin was guilty of many crude mistakes, miscalculations, and crimes, neither Kamenev, Zinoviev, Radek, nor Piatakov spoke out against him.


Ivar Smilga

Ivar Tenisovitš Smilga (2. joulukuuta 1892 Ajola, Liivinmaan kuvernementti, Venäjän keisarikunta – 10. tammikuuta 1937 Moskova, Neuvostoliitto) oli latvialaissyntyinen vallankumouksellinen bolševikki. Hän toimi 1917–1918 bolševikkien hallitseman Suomen venäläisten neuvostojen aluekomitean puheenjohtajana ja 1920-luvulla korkeissa asemissa Neuvostoliiton kommunistisessa puolueessa (NKP).

Liivinmaalla syntynyt Smilga oli vuoden 1905 Venäjän vallankumouksen yhteydessä surmatun metsätyömiehen poika, joka liittyi sosiaalidemokraattiseen työväenpuolueeseen vuonna 1907. Hän aloitti vuonna 1909 opinnot Moskovan yliopistossa, mutta hänet erotettiin seuraavana vuonna vallankumouksellisen toimintansa vuoksi. Tehtyään maanalaista puoluetyötä Moskovassa hänet vangittiin vuonna 1911 ja karkotettiin kolmeksi vuodeksi Vologdan kuvernementtiin. Vapauduttuaan hän jatkoi toimintaansa Pietarissa ja sai 1915 uuden karkotuksen Jeniseiskin kuvernementtiin Siperiaan. Smilga vapautui helmikuun vallankumouksen jälkeen vuonna 1917 ja hänet valittiin pian tämän jälkeen bolševikkipuolueen keskuskomiteaan. Hän oli sittemmin keskuskomitean jäsenenä 1917–1921 ja 1925–1927 sekä ehdokasjäsenenä 1922–1923 ja 1924–1925.

Bolševikit saivat syyskuussa 1917 ehdottoman enemmistön Suomen alueen venäläisten sotilaiden ja työläisten neuvostojen edustajakokouksessa, jolloin Smilga valittiin Suomen aluekomitean puheenjohtajaksi. Hän kuului myös Venäjän Itämeren laivastoa hallinnoineen Tsentrobaltin johtoon. Lokakuun vallankumouksen aikana Smilga lähetti Suomesta laivaston joukkoja ja aluksia vallankumouksen tueksi. Hän oli myös keskeinen henkilö bolševikkien painostaessa marraskuussa 1917 Suomen sosiaalidemokraatteja ryhtymään omaan vallankumoukseensa. Suomen sisällissodan aikana Smilga nimettiin helmikuussa 1918 Neuvosto-Venäjän täysivaltaiseksi diplomaattiseksi edustajaksi punaiseen Suomeen. Sodan päättyessä Suomen punaisten tappioon Smilga pakeni takaisin Pietariin.

Venäjän sisällissodan aikana Smilga komensi puna-armeijan 7. armeijaa Uralin rintamalla. Vuoden 1920 Puolan–Neuvosto-Venäjän sodassa hän toimi komentajana Mihail Tuhatševskin rinnalla. Smilgan muita tehtäviä olivat Neuvostoliiton talousneuvoston Vesenkhan (1921–1928) sekä valtiollisen suunnittelukomitean Gosplanin (1924–1936) varapuheenjohtajan virat. Vuonna 1926 Smilga liittyi Lev Kamenevin ja Grigori Zinovjevin johtamaan kommunistisen puolueen sisäiseen ”uuteen oppositioon”, joka arvosteli Josif Stalinia ja yhdistyi myöhemmin Lev Trotskin vasemmisto-opposition kanssa niin sanotuksi yhtyneeksi oppositioksi. Tämä johti Smilgan erottamiseen ensin NKP:n keskuskomiteasta ja lopulta koko puolueesta. Smilga sai puoluejäsenyytensä takaisin luovuttuaan Stalinin kritiikistä vuonna 1929. Myöhemmin hänet kuitenkin karkoitettiin Habarovskiin ja vangittiin vuonna 1935 Sergei Kirovin murhan jälkeen. Smilga tuomittiin kuolemaan ja teloitettiin Stalinin vainoissa vuonna 1937. Hänet rehabilitoitiin 1987.


As part of the commemoration of the centenary of the 1917 October Revolution, the World Socialist Web Site is publishing a series of profiles of leaders of the Russian Revolution. Due to the bloody and protracted Stalinist and bourgeois reaction against the revolution, these figures remain largely unknown to the international working class. Yet they rank among the most complex and formidable figures of the 20th century and are an important part of the proud historical heritage of the working class.

The stunning and often tragic vicissitudes of their political and personal lives mirror the complicated development of the Bolshevik party itself and the rapid succession of revolution, war and reaction in the 20th century. This series seeks to introduce our readers to the major contributions these figures made to the struggle for socialism and reveal the manner in which their lives intersected with the development of the Russian Revolution.

The first article in this series examines the life and political career of Ivar Tenisovich Smilga. This is the first of two parts.

Unless otherwise indicated, all translations from the Russian are by this author.

Today almost forgotten, Ivar Tenisovich Smilga ranks among the most outstanding leaders of the October Revolution and the Civil War in Russia. At the age of just 24, he became one of Lenin’s closest confidents in the preparation for the seizure of power in 1917. He played a central role in the leadership of the Red Army during the Civil War that followed the revolution, and then in the economic work of the early Soviet Union.

Ivar Tenisovich Smilga was born in 1892 to a peasant family that owned a small piece of land in Aloya, a town in Latvia. He was part of a generation that was politicized at a very early age by the Russo-Japanese War, the first Russian Revolution of 1905 and the bloody counterrevolution that followed.

In an autobiographical text from 1919, Smilga recounted that his “revolutionary consciousness was awakened” in 1901—he was then barely nine years old—when the Socialist Revolutionary (SR) Piotr Karpovich assassinated the Minister of Enlightenment, Nikolai Bogolepov. Despite the liberal and enlightened atmosphere in his home, Smilga had held, in his own words, “religious-monarchist views.” He continued, “I remember that after the assassination of Bogolepov there was something like a celebration at our house, and I was the only one not to take part in it.” [1]

The historian Alan Wildman would later describe 1901 as a year of a “general ‘swing of politics’ of Russian society” to the left. [2] The following year saw mass strikes of workers in the southern Russian city of Rostov. At the same time, a protest movement by students gained momentum. The young Smilga slowly but surely came under the influence of the socialist movement. By 1904 he was, in his own words, “a convinced atheist and supporter of the revolution.”

The tensions in Russian society, briefly bottled up but then aggravated by the war launched against Japan in 1904, finally exploded in the revolution of 1905.

In that year, the working class emerged as the central driving force of the revolutionary struggles that raged throughout the tsarist empire, including what is now the Baltics, which had significant social democratic movements. (See: “The Legacy of 1905 and the Strategy of the Russian Revolution”)

Latvia, like Lithuania, Ukraine and Congress Poland (then still part of Russia), was a multinational and multilingual part of the Russian Empire, where acute social exploitation overlapped with ruthless oppression against the national minorities. In these parts of the empire, the national minorities often formed the local majority population.

In Latvia, there were sizeable minorities of Latvians, Jews and Poles. However, they were prohibited from using their languages—Latvian, Polish and Yiddish—in public and in educational institutions. They were ruled by the Russian administration and a narrow layer of the Baltic German nobility, heirs of fabulous wealth and a tradition of the darkest political reaction.

Map indicating the scale of the revolution of 1905 in the tsarist empire. The red dots mark cities that were involved in the general strike of October 1905 and the red lines mark cities where strikes and demonstrations occurred. The red flags indicate cities that were part of the armed uprising in December 1905. The red areas mark regions where peasant uprisings took place

In 1905, thousands of workers in Latvia, especially in Riga, participated in major strikes. After the crackdown on striking workers in the spring of 1905, mass uprisings of peasants started in the countryside. They seized many estates from the Baltic German nobility. In November 1905, martial law was declared in Latvia and punitive expeditions of the tsarist government roamed the countryside and the cities.

Leon Trotsky later described the counterrevolution in this region:

In the Baltic lands, where the insurrection flared up a fortnight earlier than in Moscow, the punitive expeditions were divided up into small detachments which carried out the bloodthirsty instructions of the [German] Baltic barons, that dirty caste from which the Russian bureaucracy drew its most brutish representatives. Latvian workers and peasants were shot, hanged, flogged to death with rods and stocks, made to run the gauntlet, executed to the strains of the tsarist anthem. According to highly incomplete information, 749 persons were executed, more than 100 farms were burned down, and many people were flogged to death in the Baltic lands within the space of two months. [3]

Among the victims of the counterrevolution was Ivar Smilga’s father, who was first tortured and then executed before the eyes of his family. These events had an enormous impact on the young Smilga. He later recalled:

My father moved to the left just as contemporary society moved to the left, and he played an extremely visible role in the revolutionary events. During the elimination of the peasant self-administrations [volostnykh upravlenii] he was elected chairman of the revolutionary distribution committee in our volost’ [administrative unit in the tsarist empire]. In 1906 he was shot by a punitive expedition of the tsarist government. In January 1907, while a student in middle school, I joined the social democratic workers’ party. In my student years (1909 and 1910), my Marxist world view was conclusively formed. [4]

Smilga entered the socialist movement at a time of extreme reaction, when the masses of workers, under the impact of the defeat of the revolution, turned their backs on the struggle for socialism, if only temporarily.

Smilga (on the right) in exile in Nikolsk, 1912

Under these conditions, the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party (RSDRP) went through a very difficult period. Trotsky would later write that Lenin, who was in exile at this time, had barely a handful of Bolsheviks in Russia whom he could trust. The opportunist Menshevik wing of the party, which was oriented toward an alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie, found itself strengthened by the tide of reaction.

However difficult these years, they would prove crucial in the political education of Smilga and other leading figures of the revolution, such as Ter-Vaganian, Leonid Serebriakov and Aleksandr Voronsky. They were hardened and educated as revolutionary leaders in Lenin’s relentless struggle against Menshevik opportunism and his defense of the philosophical foundations and political principles of Marxism. These struggles were conducted and their lessons were assimilated under conditions in which the Bolsheviks were subject to continuous persecution by the state and suffered numerous arrests.

Smilga (sitting on the left), among a group of exiled revolutionaries, 1913

Smilga was no exception. Between 1907 and 1917 he was arrested no less than four times. He later looked back on these years: “The almost five years of exile proved to be a real university. In exile, alongside the study of the history and tactics of our party, I mainly focused on philosophy and political economy.” [5]

Between his two periods of exile, Smilga was briefly a member of the Petersburg Committee of the Bolsheviks, before he was again arrested and sent into exile in May 1915. Like many of the leading Bolsheviks, he returned to Petrograd only after the overthrow of the tsar in the February 1917 Revolution. At the April Conference of the Bolshevik Party, Smilga, only 24, was elected to the Central Committee (CC) along with Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Miliutin, Nogin, Sverdlov and Fedorov. In a Central Committee that at this point was dominated by the right wing under Kamenev and Zinoviev, Smilga became one of Lenin’s most important allies in the party leadership.

The CC initially sent him to Kronstadt, where he played a central role in organizing and educating the militant sailors. He was then sent further north, to Finland. In August, Smilga was elected chairman of the Regional Committee of the Army, Navy and Workers of Finland. The committee had 65 members, and the Bolsheviks had—in what was highly unusual for this period—a comfortable majority of 37 delegates. The Left Socialist-Revolutionaries (SRs), which in many instances voted with the Bolsheviks, constituted another 26, whereas the Menshevik-Internationalists had only two delegates.

Members of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party elected at the Seventh Party Conference in April 1917. Smilga is the first man on the left in the middle row

Due to the highly favorable balance of forces in the committee, Lenin regarded it as a central tool in his plans for the seizure of power. As the inner-party struggle heated up within the Bolshevik Party, Lenin turned to Smilga to make concrete preparations for an armed insurrection.

In the weeks immediately preceding the uprising, Lenin faced objections from two sides: the right-wing opposition, headed by Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, rejected the seizure of power in general as premature. They strongly adapted to the Menshevik conception of a two-stage development of the revolution, according to which the revolutionary party would have to struggle not for the seizure of power by the working class, but for a left bourgeois government based on an alliance between the workers and the peasants.

At the same time, Leon Trotsky advocated a seizure of power on the eve of the Congress of Soviets on November 8 (October 26, Old Style). This position eventually won the majority. The Military Revolutionary Committee was formed and its plan acted upon. However, Lenin feared for weeks that the Bolshevik party leadership would lose important time and miss the right moment for the seizure of power. In a lengthy letter dated October 10 (September 27, Old Style), Lenin wrote to Smilga:

The general political situation causes me great anxiety. The Petrograd Soviet and the Bolsheviks have declared war on the government. But the government has an army, and is preparing systematically. (Kerensky at General Headquarters is obviously entering into an understanding—a business-like understanding with the Kornilovites to use troops to put down the Bolsheviks.) … And what are we doing? We are only passing resolutions. We are losing time. We set “dates” (October 20, the Congress of Soviets—is it not ridiculous to put it off so long? Is it not ridiculous to rely on that?) The Bolsheviks are not conducting regular work to prepare their own military forces for the overthrow of Kerensky. … It is my opinion that inside the Party we must agitate for an earnest attitude towards the armed uprising. … Now about your role. It seems to me we can have completely at our disposal only the troops in Finland and the Baltic fleet and only they can play a serious military role. I think you must make the most of your high position, shift all the petty routine work to assistants and secretaries and not waste time on “resolutions” give all your attention to the military preparation of the troops in Finland plus the fleet for the impending overthrow of Kerensky. Create a secretcommittee of absolutely trustworthy military men, discuss matters thoroughly with them, collect (and personally verify) the most precise data on the composition and the location of troops near and in Petrograd, the transfer of the troops from Finland to Petrograd, the movement of the fleet, etc. If we fail to do this, we may turn out to be consummate idiots, the owners of beautiful resolutions and of Soviets, but no power! [6]

Lenin wrote these lines while in hiding in Helsingfors, Finland, where he had fled after the failed July uprising in order to avoid arrest and possible execution. In August and September, he and Smilga met numerous times in Helsingfors to discuss the preparation for the seizure of power. Smilga also helped Lenin maintain his tenuous connection to the party leadership.

… our plan was that, in case that the revolutionary workers and soldiers of Petrograd would not be able to immediately conquer the entire city, they would have to immediately [seize] the islands and the Vyborg side [an industrial district in Petrograd and stronghold of the Bolsheviks, CW] … in this case I should decide the struggle with the help of the forces from Finland. [7]

As it turned out, however, the workers and soldiers of Petrograd were able to seize power much more quickly and smoothly than expected—not least thanks to the correct assessment of the balance of forces and the plan advocated by Trotsky. Some 1,800 sailors from Finland, under the command of Smilga, moved to Petrograd for the armed insurrection, but when they arrived the only strategic building left to conquer was the Winter Palace. This last fortress of the old regime in Petrograd fell on November 8 (October 26, Old Style).

Smilga continued to support Lenin at many critical turns in the civil war, including the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which the Bolshevik government felt compelled to sign on March 3, 1918. At the same time, Smilga acted as the emissary of the Russian Soviet Federal Republic (RSFSR) to Finland. A few words should be said about this crucial but little-known episode in the Civil War.

Finland had formed part of the Russian Empire since the early 19th century. In the early 20th century, it became a preferred hiding place for Russian revolutionaries persecuted in the empire. In 1917, it was one of the most significant strongholds of Bolshevik influence. One major reason for this was the principled defense by the Bolsheviks of the right to national self-determination.

On January 26, 1918, the People’s Republic of Finland was formed. The Bolsheviks held a majority in the democratic assembly of the republic. But, tragically, the socialist leadership of the People’s Republic maintained strong illusions in a parliamentary road to socialism, which doomed it to defeat. Otto Wille Kuusinen, the principal figure in the Finnish revolution, later acknowledged:

The weakness of the bourgeoisie led us into being captivated by the spell of democracy, and we decided to advance towards socialism through parliamentary action and the democratization of the representative system. [8]

But the bourgeoisie had no intention of granting a parliamentary and peaceful transition to socialism. It immediately launched a counterrevolutionary offensive, relying primarily on German troops. Despite the significant growth of the Red Guards and the Baltic fleet, where Smilga, Dybenko and Antonov-Ovseenko had worked, the working class and the fledgling armed forces of the Bolsheviks were unprepared to fight against the Whites and the invading German and Swedish troops.

Within weeks, thousands and thousands of revolutionary workers were slaughtered. Victor Serge estimated that, in total, over 100,000 Finnish workers—i.e., a quarter of the country’s proletariat—were massacred. Some 70,000 Red prisoners were placed in concentration camps. About 50,000 of them were supposed to be shipped to Germany as slave laborers, a plan prevented only by the outbreak of revolution in Germany itself. The Bolsheviks had to give up hopes for the incorporation of Finland into a union of Soviet socialist republics, and the revolution in Finland was thrown back for decades.

This experience proved critical for the further conduct of the civil war by the Red Army. As Victor Serge later pointed out:

The total extermination of all the advanced and conscious elements of the proletariat is, in short, the rational objective of the White terror. In this sense, a vanquished revolutionregardless of its tendencywill always cost the proletariat far more than a victorious revolution, nomatter what sacrifices and rigor the latter may demand. One more observation. The butcheries in Finland took place in April 1918. Up to this moment the Russian Revolution had displayed great leniency towards its enemies. It had not used terror. We have noted a few bloody episodes in the civil war in the south, but these were exceptional. The victorious bourgeoisie of a small nation that ranks among the most enlightened societies in Europe was the first to remind the Russian proletariat that woe to the vanquished! is the first law of social war. [9]

White soldiers of the “Protective Corps” shoot down Red Guards in Finland in 1918

In May 1919, Smilga was co-opted into the leadership of the Red Army, the Revolutionary Military Council (Revvoensovet), at the behest of its chairman, Leon Trotsky. He would remain in this position throughout the civil war, until March 1923. [10]

In this capacity, he played a central role in defeating armies led by White generals Denikin and Wrangel and fighting against the counterrevolutionary armies that invaded Soviet Russia from Czechoslovakia and Poland.

Smilga was not only one of the most important military commanders of the Red Army, but also an important military writer and strategist. In December 1919, he chaired the First Congress of Political Workers (politrabotnikov) in the Red Army in Moscow. His pamphlet Building the Red Army (Stroitel’stvo krasnoi armii) was issued in no less than three editions between 1919 and 1920. Time and again, Smilga emphasized that the building of the Red Army had to be seen as part of the development of the Russian Revolution. It was, as he put it, the “first major organizational effort” of the Soviet state. Smilga put special emphasis on the paramount significance of educating the Red Army soldiers and, above all, their commanders on a political but also cultural level.

Hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants learned reading and writing, and the ABCs of politics, in and through the Red Army in the first years of the Civil War. The goal was, in Smilga’s words, to not have a single “illiterate soldier in the Red Army.” Given that the vast majority of the Red Army soldiers were recruited from the peasantry, by far the largest class in Russian society, which was in its overwhelming majority illiterate in 1917, this was a daunting undertaking.

Yet it was a priority concern for the Soviet government. Under the most difficult conditions of economic devastation and financial strangulation, and in the midst of a war against almost all of the major imperialist and capitalist powers of Europe, as well as Japan and the United States, the Soviet government funded an impressive network of schools, libraries and other cultural facilities to educate the soldiers. As Smilga wrote, “To conduct cultural-educational and political work among the soldiers of the Republic we never did and never will shun any means (zhalet’ sredstv).” [11]

In 1920, according to Smilga, some 1,520,674 newspapers were distributed in the army on a daily basis. They not only covered political and military questions, they also included supplements on literature, theater and music. This was in addition to about 30 newspapers issued by army units on a regional and local level. Overall, in the first 11 months of 1920, the government distributed 18,888,325 pieces of different kinds of literature in the army.

By October 1920, there were over 2,000 libraries in the army. The number of schools rose from 4,400 in July 1920 to 5,952 in November 1920, with the number of students growing from 108,000 to 120,000 in the same time period. [12]

An early edition of Smilga’s pamphlet Building the Red Armyfrom 1919

Writing in late 1920, when much of the bloody fighting on the eastern, western and southern fronts had come to an end (although the war would continue in some areas until 1922), Smilga noted:

Now that the war has ended, we have to remember that, if the task of the war was victory, then the task of the peaceful period must be a transformation of the Red Army into a Communist Red Army. Our enemies shall only try then to throw their crafty designs against the revolution in Russia. The conditions for conducting political and cultural work in the army are now much better than they were during the war. Not a single minute must be passed in vain.” [13]

[1] Autobiographical text by Ivar Smilga in: Deiateli SSSR i revoliutsionnogo dvizheniia Rossii. Entsilopedicheskii slovar. (Figures of the USSR and the revolutionary movement in Russia. An encyclopedic dictionary), Moscow: 1989, p. 63.

[2] Allan Wildman, The Making of Workers Revolution. Russian Social Democracy, 1891-1903, Chicago: 1967, p. 150.

[4] Deiateli SSSR i revoliutsionnogo dvizheniia Rossii, p. 63.

[6] Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Letter to I. T. Smilga (September 27, O.S., October 10), emphasis in the original. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/oct/10.htm

[8] Quoted in: Victor Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution, Chicago-New York-San Francisco: 1972, p. 186.

[9] Ibid., p. 191, emphasis in the original.

[10] A.P. Nenarokov, “Ivar Tenisovich Smilga,” in: Revvoensovet, Moscow: 1991, p. 350.

[11] I. Smilga: “Stroitel’stvo krasnoi armii,” in: Voennyie ocherki, Moscow: 1923, p. 21.


US Popularity of Ivar Over Time

Sister & Brother Names

Know an Ivar? What are his siblings named?

Name Lists Featuring Ivar

Contribute your knowledge to the name Ivar

"Yew warrior", from Old Norse.

Famous real-life people named Ivar

Ivar the Boneless, Danish Viking chieftan
Ivar Vidfamne, legendary Danish king of at least Scania and Zealand
Ivar Frithiof Andresen, Norwegian opera singer.
Ivar Ballangrud, Norwegian speed skater
Ivar Otto Bendixson, Swedish mathematician.
Ivar Bern, Norwegian chess player
Ivar Formo, Norwegian cross-country skier
Ivar Asbjørn Følling, Norwegian physician
Ivar Giaever, Norwegian physicist
Ivar Haglund, Seattle folk singer and founder of Ivar's
Ivar Jacobson, Swedish computer scientist
Ivar Kants, Australian actor
Ivar Larsen Kirkeby-Garstad, Norwegian politician
Ivar Kleiven, Norwegian historian and poet
Ivar Kreuger, Swedish businessman
Ivar Langen, Norwegian rector
Ivar Lo-Johansson, Swedish writer
Ivar Lykke, Norwegian politician and prime minister from 1926 to 1928
Ivar Rooth, Swedish banker
Ivar Skulstad, Norwegian politician
Ivar Bergersen Sælen, Norwegian politician
Ivar Tengbom, Swedish architect
Ivar Peterson Tveiten, Norwegian politician
Ivar Smilga, Bolshevik revolutionary leader
Ivar Vennerström, Swedish politician
Ivar Enger, Norwegian former-guitarist of Darkthrone

Ivar in song, story & screen

Ivar Erlendsson, from Sigrid Unset's Kristin Lavrandatter
Ivar the Timewalker


Politisk karriere

Smilga vendte tilbage til Petrograd i januar 1918, efter at bolsjevikkerne var blevet dirigeret i den korte borgerkrig, der førte til oprettelsen af ​​et uafhængigt Finland, og tjente som medlem af presidiet for Petrograds sovjet og redaktør for den bolsjevikiske avis Petrogradskaya Pravda. . Han bakkede konsekvent Lenins linje om, hvorvidt han skulle undertegne Brest-Litovsk-traktaten , som sluttede krigen med Tyskland. Han blev overført til politisk arbejde i den røde hær i starten af ​​den russiske borgerkrig og fungerede som en politisk kommissær på alle større front. Han var politisk chefkommissær på den sydlige front for kampagnen mod hæren af general Denikin . I januar 1921 blev han udnævnt til politisk kommissær på Causasus-fronten og leder af den kaukasiske arbejdshær.

Forholdet til Trotsky

I den tidlige del af 1919 var Smilga involveret i en konflikt om borgerkrigens opførsel, som så ham tilslutte sig Iosif Stalin mod Leon Trotsky Folkekommissæren for krig og fremtidig leder af venstre opposition. Smilga, Mikhail Lashevich og Sergei Gusev var politiske kommissærer på østfronten og kæmpede mod admiral Kolchaks hær . Militærkommandanten var Sergei Kamenev , en tidligere oberst i den kejserlige hær . Den øverstbefalende for den røde hær Ioakhim Vatzetis ville have dem til at standse operationer, når de havde drevet Kolchaks hær øst for Ural, snarere end at risikere at forfølge ham til Sibirien. Trotsky støttede ham. Smilga, Lashevich og Kamenev insisterede på at fortsætte offensiven, hvilket var en spektakulær succes. I maj blev Smilga udnævnt til leder af det politiske direktorat for den røde hær. Med Stalins støtte foreslog han, at Kamenev skulle erstatte Vatzetis som øverstkommanderende mod Trotskijs råd. Efter at Lenin havde tilsidesat Trotskij, i juli 1919, sluttede Smilga, Gusev og Kamenev sig til Trotskij i det seks-medlems Revolutionære Krigsråd.

Forholdet til Stalin

Under krigen mellem Rusland og Polen i 1920 ledede Smilga det Revolutionære Militærråd for Vestfronten , hvis militære kommandant var Mikhail Tukhachevsky . Da den røde hær mødte uventet stærk modstand, da den nåede udkanten af ​​Warszawa, beordrede Tukhachevsky den sydvestlige front til at dreje mod nord, men Stalin, der var frontens politiske kommissær, nægtede og foretrak at erobre Lwow . På den tiende partikongres i marts 1921 var der en hemmelig session om, hvorfor Rusland tabte krigen, hvor - ifølge Trotsky - "Stalin kom ud med erklæringen, lige så forbløffende i sin ondskabsfulde og usande, at Smilga . havde 'bedraget centralkomiteen' ved at 'love' at tage Warszawa inden for en bestemt dato . Jeg protesterede på stedet mod denne overraskende insinuation: Smilgas 'løfte' betød kun, at han havde håbet på at tage Warszawa. "

Efterkrigstidens karriere

Smilga blev afskediget fra centralkomiteen i marts 1921. Kort efter blev han udnævnt til chef for hoveddirektoratet for brændstof. Han var også næstformand for Vesenkha fra 1921 til 1928 og for Gosplan fra 1924 til 1926. Fra 1925 var han en fremtrædende tilhænger af Venstreopositionen, en af ​​kun et halvt dusin oppositionsfolk valgte et fuldt medlem af Central Komité i december 1925 - på trods af at Stalin i august 1925 klagede over Smilgas indflydelse i Gosplan og fordømte ham som en "falsk økonomisk leder." Han blev afskediget i juni 1927 og overført til Khabarovsk i Sibirien. Hans afgang var anledningen til den sidste offentlige demonstration mod Stalin-regimet, hvor omkring tusind mennesker samlet sig ved jernbanen for at vise solidaritet.

Smilga blev udvist fra centralkomiteen den 14. november 1927, udvist fra det kommunistiske parti i december og deporteret til et afsidesliggende område i Sibirien. I juli 1929 afskedigede han sammen med Yevgeni Preobrazhensky , Karl Radek , sin støtte til den venstre opposition, idet han henviste til grunden til, at Joseph Stalins opgang ville have betydet anvendelse af meget af venstreorienterede politik, og at farerne sovjetstaten stod overfor, udefra såvel som indefra, krævede deres "tilbagevenden til partiet". Omkring 400 andre deporterede fulgte deres føring. Hans medlemskab af det kommunistiske parti blev genoprettet i 1930, og han fik lov til at vende tilbage til økonomisk arbejde. Trotskisthistorikeren Pierre Broué formodede, at han var medlem af den hemmelige oppositionsblok, Trotsky, Zinoviev og Kamenev havde oprettet i 1932.

Arrestation og henrettelse

Smilga blev anholdt natten til den 1.-2. Januar 1935 i kølvandet på mordet på Kirov og idømt fem års fængsel. Han blev holdt i flere måneder i en isolator i Verkhneuralsk . I den første af tre Moskva-showretter, i august 1936, udnævnte den hovedtiltalte Grigory Zinoviev Smilga som værende impliceret i 'Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Center'. Senere fremkom det i Trotskijs breve, at Zinoviev og trotskister virkelig havde dannet en hemmelig alliance, men der var ingen beviser for terroraktivitet i dem. I modsætning til næsten alle de andre fremtrædende gamle bolsjevikker, der blev nævnt under proceduren, blev han aldrig udsat for en offentlig retssag, hvilket antydede, at NKVD ikke havde været i stand til at bryde hans ånd tilstrækkeligt til at kunne stole på ham til at tilstå. Han blev skudt i februar 1938.


Russian Court Keeps Historian of Stalinist Massacres Jailed Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

An important lesson from this post is that I'd never even known of this person, or his persecution, had I not looked at the World Socialist Web Site. Truth is where you find it, and woe to those who circle their ideological wagons when all humanity is at threat. Covid as the "cure" for society's ills, as in political dissenters. Coming to a NEIGHBORHOOD NEAR YOU, WITH CONTACT TRACING, ETC.

(several more images at link)

By Clara Weiss 12 May 2020

On Thursday, May 7, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Karelia in northwest Russia rejected an appeal and ruled in a closed hearing that Yuri Dmitriev, a well-known historian of the Stalinist massacres in Sandarmokh, Karelia, will remain in detention until at least June 25.

The detention seriously endangers the health and life of the 64-year-old Dmitriev as COVID-19 cases have exploded in Russia in recent days. The first cases of the virus have already been confirmed in the prison in Petrozavodsk where he is detained.

Dmitriev is the victim of a blatant state frame-up, aimed at undermining and discrediting his work to uncover and locate the mass graves of Stalinist massacres in Karelia and identify their victims. In late 2016, he was charged with “child pornography,” a transparent attempt not only to frame him, but also to destroy him personally. The charges had to be dropped in 2018 for lack of evidence, but a court found him guilty of possessing parts of a firearm. Dmitriev was arrested again in mid-2018 for allegedly violating the rules of his release and then charged with sexual assault of a minor. He has been in prison since. The hearings in his case have proceeded with exclusion of the media.

Friends and family have warned that his life is in serious danger because of the coronavirus. Dmitriev is elderly, and his health has significantly deteriorated over the winter he suffered a serious cold in February. A petition demanding his immediate release from jail has received over 11,000 signatures as of this writing. An open letter demanding his release, which was published on Wednesday, was signed by over 150 Russian intellectuals and artists, including director Alexander Sokurov, actress Chulpan Khamatova and writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, as well as several members of the pro-US party Yabloko.

The director of the city museum in Medvezhyegorsk and head of the memorial at Sandarmokh, Sergey Koltyrin, who had closely worked with Dmitriev, was also charged with sexual assault of a minor and had been detained since 2018. Having been sentenced to nine years in prison, he died in early April in a prison hospital of an unspecified “serious illness.”

The NKVD order to Matveyev to shoot the Solovki prisoners

The state campaign against Dmitriev must be unequivocally rejected and his immediate release demanded. Behind the vicious campaign are the efforts of the Russian state and oligarchy, which originated in the Stalinist counter-revolution against the October revolution of 1917, to suppress all efforts to uncover the truth about the crimes of Stalinism.

Alongside the frame-up of Dmitriev, the former far-right minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky, has led a systematic effort to propagandize the historical lie that Sandarmokh is not the site of Stalinist crimes, but rather of Finnish executions of Soviet soldiers during World War II.

In reality, the shootings at Sandarmokh in 1937-1938 were among the largest massacres during the Great Terror, the Stalinist political genocide of hundreds of thousands of socialist workers, intellectuals and artists. In the Moscow Trials of 1936 and 1937, the most famous leaders of the October Revolution were put on trial and accused of sabotage and counter-revolutionary activities. The main defendant was Leon Trotsky, who had co-led the revolution with Vladimir Lenin. After Lenin’s death, Trotsky had formed the Left Opposition to fight against the nationalist betrayal of the revolution by the Stalinist bureaucracy. Trotsky managed to form the Fourth International in 1938 before his assassination in Mexico by a Stalinist agent in August 1940.

Though they were hounded, suppressed and imprisoned, Trotsky still had many supporters in the Soviet Union throughout the 1930s. Virtually all of them were murdered in the Great Terror, together with the leaders of the October Revolution and the vast majority of the old Bolshevik party. In many cases, their families were killed as well. As the Soviet writer Varlam Shalamov put it, the terror was directed against all those who had remembered “the wrong parts of Russian history”—above all the history of the revolution and the struggle of the Left Opposition.

Sandarmokh, located north of Leningrad close to the Finnish border, was one of the biggest killing sites outside of Moscow. The largest single operation was the mass shooting of 1,111 political prisoners from the Solovki camp on the direct order of Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the Soviet secret police NKVD at the time. In the so-called “First Solovki stage,” the 1,111 prisoners were first deported to a prison that was designed for just 300 people in Medvezhyegorsk. Here, they were stripped naked and cruelly tortured.

Several died from the torture. The others were brought in groups to the Sandarmokh shooting sites 19 kilometers outside the village where pits had been dug for them. They were all executed in five days by firing squads that shot them from behind in the neck. In a macabre demonstration of the conscious counter-revolutionary character of the Stalinist terror, the killings were timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the October seizure of power by the Russian working class under Bolshevik leadership in 1917: they took place on October 27 and November 1-4, 1937.

Among those murdered in these massacres were hundreds of major intellectuals, scholars, politicians and artists, including hundreds of Ukraine’s leading intellectuals of the 1920s. According to one historian, “approximately half of those who were shot were simple workers from Petersburg [Leningrad].”

One of the largest groups shot in this operation were 248 political prisoners who had been sentenced to death for “counter-revolutionary Trotskyist terrorist activity, having retained their old counter-revolutionary positions, [and] seeking to resume counter-revolutionary work.”

Among them was Nadezhda Smilga-Poluyan, an Old Bolshevik and the wife of Ivar Smilga, who had been a close collaborator of Lenin in 1917 and leader of the Left Opposition in the 1920s the Old Bolsheviks Grigory Shklovsky and Georgy Yakovenko, who had signed declarations of the Left Opposition in the 1920s Revekka Shumskaya and Noi Vol’fson, party members since the first years of the Soviet Union who had earlier been expelled from the party and arrested for support of the opposition and Martin Yakobson and Aleksandr Blaufel’d, Old Bolsheviks who had fought for socialism in Estonia since the revolution of 1905.

Other victims of the mass shootings in Sandarmokh included the famous Russian linguist Nikolay Durnovo, the pioneering Soviet meteorologist Alexei Vangengeim, Alexander Anissimov, a leading art historian and restorer, and many other writers, scholars, and scientists from various parts of the USSR and other countries. Overall, people from 60 different nationalities were shot at Sandarmokh. Several priests and former Tsarist officials were killed as well.

The NKVD documents about these mass shootings were not uncovered until the mid-1990s. A search expedition in 1997, in which Dmitriev participated, found 236 burial pits. Based on the documents, they established that between August 11, 1937, and December 24, 1938, well over 9,500 people must have been shot and buried there. The number has since been revised upward. Together with other historians, Dmitriev has published a list of names of those murdered in Sandarmokh and written several books on what happened there during the terror. Many memorials have since been set up at Sandarmokh.

Dmitriev and his co-researchers also established the names of the leaders of the shooting squads and of the members of the “troikas,” extra-judicial courts of three which were set up to sign death sentences on behalf of the bureaucracy. At the height of the terror, a “troika” could hand down up to 200 death sentences a day, sometimes even more.

The most notorious butcher of Sandarmokh was Mikhail Matveyev, who led the shooting squads in the “Solovki operation.” After a brief arrest in 1938, Matveyev was put in charge of the NKVD internal prison system during the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II. Among those who died in the Leningrad prison at the time was the major Soviet poet Daniil Kharms, who miserably starved to death. Matveyev was awarded “the Order of Lenin” after the war—the highest decoration in the Soviet Union—and lived on a state pension until his death in 1971.

Matveyev’s fate was not the exception, but the rule. In fact, not a single hangman of the purges was ever tried, not before and not after the end of the USSR. The shootings that occurred as part of the “mass operations” of the NKVD during the terror were treated as a “state secret” throughout the Soviet period. The relatives of those who were killed in Sandarmokh were never told what had happened. The official note they received upon requests, from 1939 onward, was that their loved ones had been “sentenced to 10 years of prison [lishenie svobody] without the right to correspond.”

This policy was reconfirmed in 1955 by a special order even as the bureaucracy began to partially rehabilitate some of the victims of the terror, and shortly before the general secretary of the party, Nikita Khrushchev, was forced to acknowledge some of the worst crimes of Stalin in 1956. This policy did not change until the very final stages of the crisis of Stalinism in the late 1980s when the bureaucracy moved toward a full-scale restoration of capitalism.

In June 1988, the Stalinist press acknowledged that Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Karl Radek and Yuri Pyatakov—leaders of the October revolution who had been among the main defendants of the Moscow Trials—had, in fact, been the victims of frame-ups. That same year, the restrictions on information about the shooting victims of Sandarmokh and similar massacres were partially lifted for relatives, and the first human remains were discovered in Sandarkmokh.

At the time, a vast amount of historical material about the terror was released in Soviet periodicals and newspapers. Much of this material would form a critical basis for the history of the Left Opposition by the Soviet sociologist Vadim Rogovin. However, decades of Stalinism had severely undermined the political consciousness of the Soviet and international working class, enabling the bureaucracy to resolve its staggering crisis in its own interests, destroying the Soviet Union and transforming itself into a new ruling oligarchy.

This counter-revolution has inevitably shaped and delayed the process of establishing the historical truth about the crimes of Stalinism. To this day, the sites of the NKVD shootings have officially remained a “state secret” and lists of all the shooting sites of the NKVD have never been released. Some historians assume that any such lists may have been destroyed already.

Cover of the Fourth International journal leading with the official rehabilitation of Kamenev and Zinoviev

Dmitriev carried on with the work in the 1990s. He worked directly for Ivan Chukhin, who had earlier headed the local Soviet interior ministry and in the 1990s became a parliamentary deputy in parliament for the party “The Choice of Russia,” which backed the “shock therapy” of Boris Yeltsin. Since Chukhin’s death in 1997, Dmitriev has worked with several other local historians and researchers. In 2014, Dmitriev and one of his closest co-workers endorsed the US-backed coup in Ukraine. In an interview in 2015, Dmitriev acknowledged that he was “a nationalist in the widest sense of the word.”

These political views, which reflect the substantial disorientation in sections of the intelligentsia, have no doubt influenced the focus of Dmitriev’s work. He has primarily worked on the victims of the so-called “national operations” of the NKVD. These operations targeted the Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Ukrainian, Finnish, German and other minorities, such as the local Karelian population. While thousands of communists from these countries were murdered as part of these operations, many thousands were also killed randomly, simply based on their surnames and baseless denunciations. In the wake of 1991, the revelation of the scale of these horrendous crimes by Stalinism could no doubt be exploited by right-wing nationalist and anti-Communist forces in the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the work to establish how many active and former Left Oppositionists and socialist opponents of Stalinism were murdered in Sandarmokh—which is central for a political understanding of the Great Terror—is still only in its early stages. The vast majority of the names and political biographies of the Left Oppositionists who were killed at Sandarmokh and elsewhere remain unknown. The same goes for many other leading revolutionaries who were killed in the terror.

The vicious vendetta by the Russian state against Dmitriev is driven by the fear that any revelation about the Stalinist counter-revolutionary terror, however limited in its political analysis, works to undercut the false equation of Stalinism with socialism, the major lie of the 20th century. The current pandemic, which has ruthlessly revealed the brutality of the capitalist system to billions of workers, acutely raising the specter of world socialist revolution, has only exacerbated this fear.


Political career Ivar Smilga_section_3

A scientist working in Russia in the 1920s, who had no reason to speak well of Smilga, and in face held him responsible for the execution of a group of technicians from the former Nobel company during the civil war, nevertheless believed that he should have been appointed head of Vesenkha. Ivar Smilga_sentence_22

"He seemed to me quite superior to all other members of the Praesidium. He was well educated, with vigorous and pleasant features, and authoritative in speech and action. he impressed me favourably by his frankness and the fearless way he expressed his convictions, even when they were quite the opposite of those of his party colleagues." Ivar Smilga_sentence_23

Viktor Serge, a fellow supporter of the left opposition, described Smilga as "a fair-haired intellectual with spectacles, a chin-beard, and thinning front, ordinary to look at and distinctly the armchair sort." Ivar Smilga_sentence_24


Establishment of the Nakhchivan ASSR (Part Two)

The political situation in the early 1920s

After the US army’s withdrawal from Nakhchivan, Nakhchivan was left alone in the fight against the Dashnaks. In the early 1920s, the army of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey directly intervened in the Armenian-Muslim conflict in Kars and Nakhchivan. However, this intervention had more to do with the desire to weaken Armenia politically and militarily and to establish relations with Bolshevik Russia than with the intention to support Azerbaijan’s territorial claims (Baberowski, 2010:159).

Under the pretext of the Dashnak threat, the Turkish army led by Karabekir Pasha seized Nakhchivan in March 1920 (Altstadt, 1992:105). During this operation, members of the gang led by Ali Teymur Bey were involved in robberies and murders against Armenians living in Nakhchivan, which further aggravated the situation in the region. (Bagirov, 1965:50) Before that, the 11th Red Army began to move south. The army’s approach to the Azerbaijani border changed the political situation in Baku. The local Bolsheviks staged a military coup in late April. After the April coup, the Azerbaijani Provisional Revolutionary Committee was declared the supreme legislative and executive body. It consisted of Nariman Narimanov, Abid Alimov, Mirza Davud Huseynov, Aliheydar Garayev, Gazanfar Musabayov and Hamid Sultanov. On April 28, the Provisional Revkom approved the composition of the new government of the republic—the Council of People’s Commissars. Narimanov became the head of the new government, as well as the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs.

The news of the establishment of the Azerbaijan SSR in Baku soon reached Nakhchivan. On the same day, the Military Council of the 11th Red Army and the Azrevkom sent a telegram to Nakhchivan demanding the handover of power to the Soviets. Igor Ponomaryov, chairman and later deputy chairman of the Nakhrevkom (Nakhchivan Revolutionary Committee), wrote in a letter to the Azerbaijan Revkom: “On April 28, 1920, the representative of Nakhchivan in the Azerbaijani government called me and said, ‘According to a telephoned dispatch, the authority is transferred to the Soviets. You form a new government.’ After getting this information, we immediately summoned the Nakhchivan communists and influential leftists and set up a seven-member Revkom.” (Sadigov, 1995:18).

Battles between the Dashnaks and the Musavat army continued in Zangezur and Karabakh on the eve of the establishment of the Azerbaijan SSR government. The newly formed government immediately sent an ultimatum to the Dashnaks, demanding the hostilities be stopped. A note sent by Mirza Davud Huseynov, Deputy Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Azerbaijan SSR, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Dashnak Armenia on April 30, 1920 said, “The workers and peasants’ government of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic represented by the Revolutionary Committee calls on you to 1) clear Karabakh and Zangezur of your troops immediately 2) withdraw your troops to your borders 3) put an end to ethnic massacres. Otherwise, the Revolutionary Committee of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic will consider itself at war with you. You have three days to respond to this note.” (Sadigov, 1995:18).

The government of the Azerbaijan SSR considered Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhchivan as its territory. For this reason, the ultimatum to the Dashnaks demanded an end to the attack on Nakhchivan. However, the Republic of Armenia did not respond to this ultimatum and gathered its army in the direction of Nakhchivan.

Establishment of the Nakhchivan SSR

In June 1920, a 9,000-strong Turkish division under the command of Javid Bey attacked from the direction of Bayazid and Igdir and entered Nakhchivan (Bagirov, 1965:50). Using this as a pretext, the Dashnaks launched a strong attack in June to seize Nakhchivan and Sharur-Daralayaz Uyezd. Dashnak gangs occupying Sharur Uyezd committed massacres against the Azerbaijanis living here. The Nakhrevkom army and the Turkish detachment stationed in Nakhchivan were small and could not prevent the Dashnaks’ attack. In the first half of June 1920, the peasants of Nakhchivan appealed to the RSFSR and the Azerbaijan SSR to help them in their struggle for freedom against the Entente and the Dashnaks (Sadigov, 1995:18). Despite serious efforts by Kazim Pasha, the Armenian government forces captured Shahtakhty and on July 27 issued an ultimatum to surrender Nakhchivan within 48 hours. The 15-paragraph ultimatum signed by Armenian Defense Minister Ruben Ter-Minasian demanded that Nakhchivan and Sharur Uyezd be declared an integral part of the Republic of Armenia and that all residents consider themselves citizens of the Republic of Armenia. The second paragraph of the ultimatum stated that the Nakhchivan National Committee and the residents of this uyezd undertook not to allow Turks and refugees from Vedibasar, Zangibasar, Sharur and agitators from Azerbaijan to enter the uyezd (Hasanli, 2012:257).

This Dashnak ultimatum was received very harshly by the Nakhrevkom, which replaced the National Council on Sovietization in Nakhchivan. The note addressed by the Nakhrevkom to the Armenian government said that the working population of the Nakhchivan region considered itself an integral part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic united with the RSFSR, and Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan relied on the Red Army. The note pointed out that on all issues the Armenian government should henceforth address directly the central government of Azerbaijan and the Russian-Turkish-Azerbaijani joint command of the Red Army, who arrived in Nakhchivan on July 28. At the end of the note, it was stated that the “National Council” did not exist at present, as the “Revolutionary Committee” had been established in the country.

However, Armenia did not respond to this note and continued to attack. Although the Dashnaks failed to enter the city of Nakhchivan, they had already occupied Shahtakhty. Thousands of Muslims were forced to move from Shahtakhty to Iran. More than a hundred Muslim villages were destroyed (Hasanli, 2012:258). No other region of the Caucasus experienced as much devastation as Nakhchivan. During these massacres, the city of Nakhchivan was completely emptied, and one third of the Azerbaijanis living in the uyezd were forced to flee to Iran (Baberowski, 2010:165).

Commander of the Turkish troops in Eastern Anatolia Kazim Karabekir Pasha appealed to the government of the Azerbaijan SSR in this regard. The atrocities committed against the local population in Nakhchivan created strong national feelings among the Azerbaijani communists in Baku. In a telegram to Foreign Minister Chicherin, Narimanov said that Nakhchivan, Julfa, Karabakh and Zangezur should be part of Azerbaijan.

Narimanov expertly took advantage of the desperate position in which the Bolsheviks found themselves. Anastas Mikoyan, Stalin’s plenipotentiary in Baku, also had no choice but to reconcile with Narimanov. Thus, Narimanov’s claims were initially accepted (Baberowski, 2010:214).

Finally, on July 19, the command of the 11th Red Army made a decision to launch a military campaign to enter Nakhchivan after realizing that negotiations with Armenia would not yield any results. A cavalry detachment of 30 people from the 1st Caucasian Regiment of the 11th Red Army on the night of July 27, 1920, and cavalry detachments of the “Comrade Trotsky” 106th Regiment of the 11th Red Army on July 28, 1920, entered Nakhchivan. On July 28, 1920, the regiment of the 11th Army crossed Goris and entered Nakhchivan. The Soviet government was proclaimed here on the same day. The commander of the 1st Caucasian Regiment sent a telegram to Kirov, saying, “On July 28, we arrived in Nakhchivan without encountering enemy on the way. The people of Nakhchivan welcome the Red Army and the Soviet government with fervor.” On July 29, 1920, the Nakhchivan Revolutionary Committee was established and all authority in Nakhchivan passed to this committee.

On the same day, Nakhchivan was declared an independent Nakhchivan Soviet Socialist Republic (NSSR). This republic was in a close military-economic alliance with the Azerbaijan SSR and the RSFSR (Bagirov, 1965:51). The entry of Red Army units into Nakhchivan played an important role in reviving the activities of Bolshevik organizations here. The Nakhchivan Bolshevik organization was reorganized. Meetings of the party organization were attended by local communists A. Rustamov, M. Bektashov, N. Najafov, and Starov from the Red Army, as well as Turkish officer Khalil bey. The latter established contacts between the Nakhchivan Soviet government and the Turkish Parliament. The 11th Red Army managed to control mainly the city of Nakhchivan and its surrounding villages but was unable to repel the attacks of the Dashnak army as a whole. Dashnak troops took over Sharur Uyezd completely and mainly mountain villages of Ordubad Uyezd. The population thought that the Bolsheviks would move to Shahtakhty after coming to Nakhchivan. However, the commander of the 11th Red Army, Ivar Smilga, did not intend to move from Nakhchivan to Shahtakhty. Smilga believed it was impossible to fight the Dashnaks with only 300 soldiers. For this reason, Smilga considered the capture of Nakhchivan and its vicinity a maximum success and wanted to use it to force Armenia to peace (Hasanli, 2012:258). With this in mind, he decided to send a peace proposal to the Dashnaks.

The Nakhchivan Military Revolutionary Committee (NRC) sent a delegation including representatives of the Red Army and the Turkish army to Shahtakhty to negotiate with the Dashnak Armenia. The Dashnaks ignored the delegation’s peaceful calls and serious warnings, arrested them and sent them to Yerevan under escort. Only after strong protests from the Nakhchivan NRC were the delegates released and returned to Shahtakhty. However, the Dashnaks sent their army to Nakhchivan again in order to seize Nakhchivan. Only on August 10, as a result of a stern warning and demand of the Azerbaijan Revolutionary Committee, the intervention of the representative of the RSFSR in Armenia, a two-article agreement was reached and hostilities were suspended (Sadigov, 1995:18).

Justifying the Dashnak attack on Nakhchivan with the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Turks in the region, the Bolsheviks proposed that the latter should withdraw from the region. In August 1920, negotiations began between the Red Army Command and the Turkish military leadership on the withdrawal of Turkish units from Nakhchivan. The Turks disagreed, explaining their presence here with the need for a common struggle against the Dashnaks. Not wanting to impair relations with Turkey, the Soviet government instructed the 11th Army Command to suspend negotiations on the issue. (Bagirov, 1965:51).

Disagreement between the RSFSR and the Azerbaijan SSR on Nakhchivan

The five-month clashes between the Azerbaijani SSR, the 11th Army and the Armenian army in Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhchivan created certain changes in the policy of the Russian SFSR. Recognizing Azerbaijan’s claim to Zangezur and Karabakh, the RSFSR was careful in the Nakhchivan issue to prevent the complete annihilation of Armenia. There were serious differences of opinion between the Russian Bolsheviks over the disputed territories between the Azerbaijan SSR and Armenia. Armenia’s claims were supported by Chicherin, while Azerbaijan’s claims were supported by Ordzhonikidze and Stalin.

However, the Bolsheviks also remained neutral in the Nakhchivan issue. Shahtakhtinski pointed out in order to influence Lenin on Nakhchivan, “Zagatala District, Karabakh and Nakhchivan, which belonged to Azerbaijan before the April coup, should remain part of Soviet Azerbaijan. These territories undoubtedly belonged to Azerbaijan during the Musavat government and have always been an integral part of it, historically, ethnographically and economically closely connected with it. For moral and political considerations, Soviet Russia must not allow the alienation of lands of Soviet Azerbaijan, the demolition of this state at the gates of the East by the Dashnaks and Georgian Mensheviks before its people’s eyes.” (Hasanli, 2012:58).

In the summer of 1920, secret negotiations began between the RSFSR and Dashnak Armenia. These talks were met with dissatisfaction by the government of the Azerbaijan SSR. Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of Azerbaijan Nariman Narimanov and Armenian Bolsheviks Anastas Mikoyan and Avis Nurijanyan also opposed the signing of an agreement with the Dashnak government. The telegram they sent to Chicherin and Ordzhonikidze said, “There is a local self-government in Julfa and Nakhchivan that has been defended against the Dashnak government for more than a year. This area must be captured by our troops and annexed to Azerbaijan in order to establish direct connection with Turkey. In our opinion, the current negotiations between the Soviet government and the Republic of Armenia and the discussion of the Turkish-Armenian issue are ill-timed.” (Guliyeva, 1989:28).

However, the influence of the RSFSR Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Chicherin on Lenin was stronger. Long before the agreement was signed, the memorandum prepared by Chicherin for Lenin stated: “The Azerbaijani government has declared its claim to Karabakh, Zangezur, Nakhchivan and Sharur-Daralayaz Uyezd. Most of these lands are in fact in the hands of the Republic of Armenia. To seize these territories, Azerbaijan has to send its Muslim units against the soldiers who oppose the Soviet government. It is absolutely unacceptable to send Azerbaijani units against Armenians, and it would be a great crime.” (Hasanli, 2012:171). On August 10, the chairman of the Nakhchivan Revolutionary Committee, Bekdashov, wrote a letter to Narimanov stating that the Nakhchivan region recognized itself as an integral part of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic. However, the agreement signed between the RSFSR and Armenia on the same day came as a surprise to the Azerbaijani Bolsheviks. The articles of the agreement were as follows:

  1. The hostilities between the troops of the RSFSR and the Republic of Armenia shall be considered ceased from 12 p.m. on August 10, 1920.
  2. The troops of the Republic of Armenia stop in positions in the direction of Shahtakhty-Khok-Aznaberd[1]-Sultanbey and Kuku-Bazarkend. The Soviet army takes control of the disputed territories of Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhchivan. (Except for the areas defined by this agreement for the deployment of Armenian troops).
  3. The occupation of the disputed territories by Soviet troops does not prejudge the rights of the Republic of Armenia or the Azerbaijani SSR over these territories. With this interim administration, the RSFSR intends to create favorable conditions for a peaceful settlement of territorial disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the basis of a peace treaty to be concluded between the RSFSR and the Republic of Armenia in the near future.
  4. After the cessation of hostilities, the parties shall restrict the movement of military forces in both disputed and border areas.
  5. Until the signing of the agreement between the RSFSR and the Republic of Armenia, the operation of the Shahtakhty-Julfa railway shall be transferred to the Armenian Railways. (Excluding use for military purposes).
  6. The RSFSR provides free access (with weapons and equipment) to the Armenian military units behind the line occupied by the Soviet army (Oreshkova, 1999:229).

The RSFSR did not inform the Azerbaijan SSR about the articles of the agreement. According to the Russian-Armenian agreement signed on August 10, the fate of Nakhchivan and Sharur-Daralayaz Uyezd would be determined in the future. The front line was to serve as the USSR-Armenian border for some time. This meant that Shahtakhty would stay in Armenia. Although Shahtakhtinski, Ambassador of the Azerbaijan SSR in Moscow, objected to the agreement, it did not matter. It is clear from the letter he sent to Lenin on August 13 that he had heard about the agreement from the press and did not have precise information about its provisions. He wrote, “The transfer of the Shahtakhty-Yerevan and Shahtakhty-Julfa railways to Armenia together with all relevant facilities means handing all of South Azerbaijan over to the Dashnaks, and if this move unites the Dashnaks with the British forces in Iran, it deprives Azerbaijan of all ties with the Turkish revolutionary movement.” In the letter, Shahtakhtinski noted, “The Dashnaks used the British to capture Nakhchivan. However, as soon as the British left, the population revolted and the Armenian army sent against them, armed from head to toe, was disbanded. Giving this land, which was liberated from the Dashnaks after three years of bloody struggle led by the working people and united with Azerbaijan, this land, where no Armenian lives today, to the Dashnaks is a clear violation of the generally accepted principle of self-determination of peoples and the rights of Soviet Azerbaijan. The people of Nakhchivan have established a Soviet regime in the country, and they do not want to even think that Soviet Russia may hand over Nakhchivan to the Dashnaks against the will of the entire population, while not only will the Soviet system be destroyed under their rule, but also the physical existence of the population will be in danger, as is the case in the territory of Dashnak Armenia.” (Hasanli, 2012:175). Nariman Narimanov also expressed his official protest to Soviet Russia over the agreement. “Armenians who call themselves Communists, but are, in fact, consciously or unconsciously nationalist, will not give up their insidious plans against Muslims.” (Baberowski, 2010:165).

After the Russian-Armenian agreement, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Azerbaijan CP(b) discussed the situation in Nakhchivan and instructed the Azerbaijan Revolutionary Committee to define the Nakhchivan issue and the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. In addition, the Azerbaijan Revkom was instructed to resolve the issue of organizing the government in Nakhchivan and nominating a candidate for the post of commissar in consultation with the 11th Army MRC. The disagreement between the Azerbaijan SSR and the RSFSR over Nakhchivan ended in September 1920. The reason was the war that broke out between Turkey and Armenia.

The Armenian–Turkish war

On August 10, 14 states in France signed the Treaty of Sèvres, which formalized the division of the Ottoman Empire. According to this agreement, the Ottomans were to recognize Armenia as an independent state and cede the eastern provinces of the country, Van, Bitlis, Erzurum and Trabzon, to Armenia. The agreement was rejected by the Turkish parliamentary government. Armenia could achieve the fulfillment of the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres only by winning the war. During this period, the size of the Armenian army on the border with Turkey reached 30,000 people against the 50,000-strong Turkish army. The struggle against the imperialists created an Azerbaijan-Turkey-Russia alliance against Armenia in the region. On September 14, the Bolsheviks called on Armenia to give up the Sèvres agreement and allow the creation of a corridor between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Armenia refused. The Armenian leadership started a war against the Ankara government, hoping that the Western countries would support them.

The Dashnaks were supplied with ammunition and military equipment by the United States. The Dashnak army was equipped with vehicles and even planes. The arms factory in Kars and the cartridge factory in Alexandropol were funded by the Americans (Sadigov, 1995:19). On September 24, Dashnak troops attacked the Turkish army near Bardiz[2] and Ketak[3]. After the attack of the Dashnak army was repelled, the Turkish units launched a counterattack and captured Sarikamish on September 29 and Merdenek [4] a day later (Bagirov, 1965:52-53). As Turkish units advanced rapidly, many Armenian civilians were unable to flee the area. The Turkish army destroyed the civilian Armenians living in the area in cold blood. In response, the Armenian army began ethnic cleansing in Turkish and Azerbaijani villages in the Irevan Governorate and Kars Province.

Ruben Ter-Minasian, Minister of Defense of Dashnak Armenia, was elected for his harsh attitude towards Azerbaijanis. Ter-Minasian aimed to expel all Turks living in Kars and Nakhchivan and completely Armenianize the region. Some Armenian historians praise him and the Dashnaktsutyun government for arming Armenia and thus securing its future. All this made the Dashnak war with the Turkish army, the protector of Muslims in the region, inevitable (Bloxham, 2005:105). The Dashnak army also launched an attack in the direction of Nakhchivan in September. Along with this move of the Armenian army, the Azerbaijan SSR and the RSFSR also joined the war. On September 18, 1920, Red Army units, Turkish troops and local military units repelled the attack of the Dashnak army. In a counterattack, the allies captured Ordubad and surrounding villages. By the end of October 1920, the Dashnaks were expelled from the entire Ordubad Uyezd. Revolutionary committees were set up in the captured territories. Defeated on the Ordubad front, the Dashnaks began to pull in their forces to Sharur and Shahtakhty this time.

On November 7, 1920, Abbasgulu bey Shadlinski’s “Red Battalion” together with units of the Caucasian Regiment of the 11th Red Army, Turkish troops, 1,500 volunteers from the local population launched a counterattack against the Dashnaks. The counterattack began in several directions—in the direction of the villages of Sharur, Givrag, Garabaglar and Aznaburd. It was so unexpected and devastating that the Dashnak army left its positions without resistance. Operation Sharur ended with the complete defeat of Dashnak troops (Sarkissian, 1990:79-80). Dashnak General Shelkovnikov’s 2,500-strong division surrendered. Thus, by November 1920, Nakhchivan and Sharur-Daralayaz Uyezd were completely cleared of Dashnaks (Sadigov, 1995:19).

The Dashnak army was also severely defeated on the Turkish front. On October 13, Armenian troops attempted a counterattack from Kars but failed. In early October, due to the difficult situation on the front, Armenia appealed to the governments of Great Britain, France, Italy and other allied countries.

However, the great powers had problems of their own and did not provide any assistance to Armenia. The only country that responded was Greece. The operations launched in the west of Asia Minor did not seriously affect the advance of the Turkish army in the east. On October 28, the Turkish army attacked along the entire front line. On October 30, Kars was captured. The loss of Kars discouraged the Dashnaks, and the army began to retreat in a disorderly manner. The Turkish army approached Alexandropol (now Gyumri). On November 3, the Armenian government was forced to ask the Turkish government for peace.

Karabekir Pasha demanded the withdrawal of the Armenian army from Gyumri and the cessation of hostilities. Fulfilling this demand, the Armenians left Gyumri. After the Turkish army entered Gyumri on November 7, they offered peace to Armenia on terms similar to capitulation. The Dashnaks rejected these demands and decided to turn to Soviet Russia for mediation. On November 11, the Turkish army continued its offensives, entered Igdir and began to move inside Armenia. The outcome of the war was already clear. The Armenian army did not want to fight. The Turkish army already stood “at the gate of” Yerevan. On November 15, the Republic of Armenia addressed the Grand National Assembly of Turkey with a peace talks proposal. On November 23, the Armenian delegation left for Gyumri. On December 2, the representative of the Republic of Armenia Alexander Khatisian and the head of the Turkish parliamentary delegation Karabekir Pasha signed the Treaty of Alexandropol. Some important points of the agreement were as follows:

  • The border between Turkey and Armenia is defined as from the mouth of the Ashagi Garasu to the Araz River, north of Kekach, Arpachay, Garakhan gorge, east of Tiknis—east of Boyuk Kamli—Gizildash—Boyuk Agbaba mountain range. The fate of the settlement south of the strip passing through the mouth of the Ashagi Garasu near the Araz River (Nakhchivan, Shahtakhty, Sharur) will be determined later by referendum. Armenia will not interfere in the form of government and the territory covered by this government, and a local administration will be established in this area under the auspices of Turkey.
  • In order to prevent further violations of discipline and security as a result of provocation and pressure from the imperialist powers, the Yerevan (Armenian) government undertakes to have a lightly armed gendarmerie for domestic security and not to have more than 1,500 troops armed with 8 cannons and 200 machine guns to protect the country. There will be no compulsory military service in Armenia.
  • The Yerevan government considers the Treaty of Sèvres, which was categorically rejected by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, to be invalid, and takes upon itself to recall its representatives in Europe and America, a tool of provocation in the hands of some imperialist governments and political circles, and to eliminate all misconceptions between the two countries.
  • The Turkish government will ensure the freedom of transit between Iran, Baku and Armenia via Sharur, Nakhchivan, Shahtakhty and Julfa. The Armenian government undertakes not to impose taxes on goods, cars, wagons and all transit operations between Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia and Turkey. (Treaty of Gyumri, 2004:4-7).

The Treaty of Alexandropol virtually turned Dashnak Armenia into a small republic around Yerevan and Lake Goycha. With this agreement, Armenia fell into a position of dependence on Turkey, and Nakhchivan, Shahtakhty and Sharur regions became Turkey’s protectorate. According to the terms of the agreement, Armenia had to give up its claim to Nakhchivan (Bagirov, 1965:56-57).

The Treaty of Alexandropol essentially meant an alliance between the Turkish Parliament and Dashnak Armenia against the Soviet government in the Caucasus. According to this treaty, the Turks promised the Dashnaks armed assistance to suppress the revolutionary movement in Armenia and Nakhchivan.

In December 1920, the command of the Turkish army decided to arrest the revolutionary committees in the NSSR and disarm the Red Army units stationed in Nakhchivan. The representative of the Turkish command, Veysal Bey, declared himself the emergency commissioner of Nakhchivan. (Bagirov, 1965:58). This step strained the relations between Turkey and the RSFSR. However, on the eve of the signing of the Treaty of Alexandropol, a Soviet government was formed in Armenia as a result of a military coup and the treaty was annulled.

Sovietization of Armenia and the Nakhchivan issue

The crushing defeat of the Armenian army inflicted by the Turkish troops created a gap on the eastern borders of this country. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the Army of Soviet Azerbaijan and the 11th Red Army, together with a group of Armenian Bolsheviks, entered the city of Ijevan on November 29, 1920 and announced the establishment of the Revolutionary Committee. One day later, RSFSR official Boris Legran gave an ultimatum to the Armenian government, demanding that the power be handed over to the Bolsheviks immediately. On December 2, the Armenian parliament convened and unanimously decided to hand over power to the Armenian Bolsheviks. On December 4, the Soviet army entered Yerevan. The newly formed government refused to recognize the agreement between Dashnak Armenia and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

The Sovietization of Armenia brought up the issue of disputed territories again. The establishment of Soviet power in Armenia was not part of the plans of the Turkish Parliament. Turkey’s attitude towards Soviet Armenia remained the same as towards Dashnak Armenia. The Turks openly claimed Nakhchivan, citing their agreement with the Dashnaks (Sarkissian, 1990:80). The Russian Bolsheviks also had the idea of giving Nakhchivan to the Turks. This was possible if Turkey became the leader of the revolutionary movement in the Muslim East. Legran wrote to Chicherin, “If the Turks have the opportunity to exert a revolutionary influence on neighboring Muslim countries and they can raise a revolutionary movement in the East, it will certainly be great, then we can give them Nakhchivan. But first we need to test the Turks.” (Hasanli, 2012:308).

During the Bolshevik military coup in Armenia, a meeting of the Azerbaijani Politburo was held in Baku with the participation of Ordzhonikidze. At the meeting on November 30, 1920, under Ordzhonikidze’s pressure, Narimanov renounced the Azerbaijan SSR’s claim to Nakhchivan. Azerbaijan giving up the disputed territories was part of the plan to ensure a smooth transfer of power in Armenia. However, these steps were misunderstood by both the Nakhchivan Bolsheviks and the Armenian Bolsheviks. After the decision was made, Azrevkom member Behbud Shahtakhtinski arrived in Nakhchivan. Shahtakhtinski here announced Azrevkom’s decision to cede Nakhchivan to the Armenian SSR, and made a careless statement: “Azerbaijan has sold you, I would have not allowed it if I had been in Baku.” Then, turning to the crowd, he said, “Today, as a member of Azrevkom, I am leaving with Comrade Valibeyov. Neither I nor Valibeyov have any role in making this decision. Now the Turks are your only salvation. Hold on to them.” (Sarkissian, 1990:80-81).

Although the decision to hand over Nakhchivan to Armenia was announced, the territory was actually controlled by the Turkish army. Thus, Soviet diplomats’ entry to and exit from Nakhchivan were controlled by Turkish groups on the border. In the Nakhchivan issue, the Turkish delegation thought that Nakhchivan would remain theirs at the request of the population (Sargsyan, 1990:88).

However, the Azerbaijan SSR was against it. Shahtakhtinski considered it more acceptable to give the territory to Russia than to give it to Turkey: “For strategic considerations, this very important land should not be given to the protectorate of the Turks. We must not allow it to be annexed to Armenia now either, because, firstly, the very population of this region opposes this, and, secondly, the Turks will not agree to this. Therefore, it is necessary for the time being to turn this territory into a self-governing region under the protectorate of Soviet Russia. This solution will move the Turks from their position and cannot but satisfy Armenia.” (Hasanli, 2012: 308). The people of Nakhchivan wanted to unite only with Azerbaijan. After the announcement of the handover of Nakhchivan to Armenia, mass protests began in the region with the support of the Turks. Bahadir Valibeyov wrote about it, “I went to Yerevan to report to the Armenian Revkom and the Central Committee of the Communist Party on the political situation in Nakhchivan and the people’s response to the statement of Azrevkom. They listened to my report very carefully there and promised to take measures to stabilize the situation.” (Sadigov,1995: 22-23).

Following Valibeyov’s report, the Armenian Revkom issued a comprehensive statement on Nakhchivan on December 26, 1920, declaring that the area had been voluntarily annexed to Armenia. However, only two days later, on 28 December, in its second statement on Nakhchivan, the Armenian Revkom recognized Nakhchivan as an independent Soviet republic and reaffirmed the right to self-determination of Azerbaijanis living in Nakhchivan. Surprisingly, both documents were signed by the chairman of the Armenian Revkom Kasyan and his members Avis and Bekzadyan. (Saparov, 2014:102). Armenian and Azerbaijani historians explain the contradictory declarations of both Azerbaijan and Armenia in December 1920 by the Turkish factor, and Russian and European scholars by the RSFSR factor. Ultimately, the December 28 statement of the Armenian Revkom is believed to have been made under pressure from Lenin. Lenin said, “Azrevkom’s proposal to give Nakhchivan to Armenia as a ‘fraternity’ mission should be welcomed. However, the will of the people is the key in this matter. The Soviet government in Armenia represents the will of the people. For this reason, the working people of Nakhchivan must use their right to self-determination to choose their own fate.” (Madatov, 1968:95).

According to the referendum held at the beginning of 1921, 90% of Nakhchivan’s population wanted to be included in the Azerbaijan SSR “with the rights of an autonomous republic” (Altstadt, 1992:116). The results of the referendum showed the ethnic division in the region. A large number of Armenians living in Nakhchivan had been expelled from the region, especially in the 1920 wars. Thus, in 1926, Armenians made up 11% of the total population of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Therefore, it is not surprising that over 90% of the participants voted in the 1921referendum for the unification with Azerbaijan. (Shnirelman, 2003:242-243)

Treaties of Kars and Moscow

Although it was confirmed in January 1921 that Nakhchivan remained part of Azerbaijan, Turkey persisted in its claim to the region. The Turkish army was still in Nakhchivan and did not want to leave the area. After negotiations with the RSFSR, the Turkish Parliament agreed to give up Nakhchivan in favor of Azerbaijan, Gyumri in favor of Armenia, and Adjara in favor of Georgia. The first negotiations between the RSFSR and the Turkish Parliament resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Moscow on March 16, 1921. The third clause of the agreement concerned Nakhchivan: “Both Contracting Parties agree that the Nakhichevan Region, located within the boundaries specified in Annex I (C) of the present Treaty, will hereafter from an autonomous territory under the auspices of Azerbaijan, under the condition that Azerbaijan will not relinquish the protectorate to any third party. The borders of the triangle-shaped Nakhichevan Region are formed by the Araz river bed on one side, and on the West, by the line that passes through the mountains Danga, Velidag, Bagirsag, and Komurludag. The third border line of this territory, which begins at the Komurludag mountain, passes through the Saraybulag mountain and the Ararat Station, and finishes at the junction of Karasu with Araz, will be properly corrected by a special commission made up of delegates from Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia.” (Treaty of Moscow, 2004:26-27). The settlement of the Nakhchivan issue at the Moscow conference was a great victory for both Turkish and Azerbaijan SSR diplomacy. It was because of his role in resolving the Nakhchivan issue that Narimanov wrote to Behbud Shahtakhtinski, the Azerbaijani representative at the Moscow conference, “Thank you very much for Nakhchivan! You see, you have already dived deep into work and you are doing it right. This makes me happy, because some people from a certain group kept saying that I had chosen poorly.” (Hasanli, 2012:369-370).

After the Treaty of Moscow, the Turkish delegation demanded from the RSFSR that a separate agreement on border issues be signed with both the Azerbaijan SSR, the Armenian SSR, and the Georgian SSR. In addition, the Turks stated that the territory of the Nakhchivan SSR would be given to Azerbaijan within the territories mentioned in the agreement signed with Dashnak Armenia in 1920. This was met with dissatisfaction by the Armenian Bolsheviks.

The Turkish delegation stressed the importance of the issue for the security of Turkey’s eastern borders and therefore insisted on the border issue. The RSFSR delegation said that in this situation it was necessary to comply with the border previously demanded by Azerbaijan itself. At the suggestion of the Azerbaijani SSR and at the insistence of the Turkish delegation, it was decided to attach half of the former Sharur-Daralayaz Uyezd beginning from the Komurludag-Saraybulag mountain, to the Nakhchivan SSR (Sarkissian, 1990:90).

Chicherin said in this regard, “Armenia and Azerbaijan have the Nakhchivan issue. The article on a tripartite commission consisting of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey to adjust the borders in the triangular zone appeared as follows: When the ‘transfer of Nakhchivan to the protectorate of Azerbaijan’ was resolved, the Turks defined the borders of Nakhchivan province under the Treaty of Gyumri, which gave the southern triangle of Irevan Province to Nakhchivan. These borders were adopted by a special commission of experts due to the mistake of military experts without our knowledge. Therefore, when the issue came up again at the conference, we could only protest against the return of the borders to the southern triangle. After a long struggle, It was decided that a commission consisting of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey would finally clarify the borders in these areas. Earlier, when Shahtakhtinski spoke to us about Nakhchivan, he believed that the last borders of Nakhchivan province reached the Gurd Gapisi (Wolf’s Gate). By the way, the triangular zone, i.e., the southern triangular part of Irevan Province, is larger than Shahtakhtinski claims. At present, this area extends beyond the Wolf’s Gate. The Soviet Azerbaijan must first determine the border between the Nakhchivan SSR and the Armenian SSR. This is necessary because we need to know with what the Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives entered the tripartite commission with Turkey.” (Hasanli, 2012:379-380).

On October 13, 1921, a treaty of friendship was signed in Kars with the participation of the RSFSR between the governments of the Armenian SSR, the Azerbaijan SSR, the Georgian SSR, on the one side, and the government of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, on the other side. The Treaty of Kars was signed by Kazim Karabekir Pasha, Memduh Şevket Bey, People’s Commissar for State Control of the Azerbaijani SSR Behbud Bey Shahtakhtinski, Commissioner for Foreign Affairs of the Armenian SSR Askinaz Mravyan, People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs Pogos Makinzyan, People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs of the Georgian SSR Shalva Eliava, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs and Finance Alexander Svanidze and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the RSFSR to Latvia Yakov Gapetsky. The annex to the agreement indicated the borders of the Armenian SSR with Turkey and Iran, established the border of the Nakhchivan SSR with Turkey at 11 km to Arazdeyen station, and the border with Iran as 176 km long, i.e., as it was according to the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay. Article 5 of the agreement reaffirmed that the Turkish government and the governments of Soviet Armenia and Soviet Azerbaijan agreed to establish an autonomous territory under the auspices of Azerbaijan within the borders specified in Annex III to the agreement (Sadigov, 1995:26). Appendix III established the border of Nakhchivan SSR with Armenian SSR in the direction of Dashburun mountain—eastern Dashburun mountain—Jehennem gorge—Bulag—Bagirsag mountain—Elevation 6587 and in the direction of Elevation 6629—Komurludag—Elevation 3080—Sayatdag—Kurdgulag—Hamasur mountain—Elevation 8022—Kukudag (Treaty of Kars, 2004:79-80).

There was a small change concerning Nakhchivan in the Treaty of Kars compared to the Treaty of Moscow. The treaty did not include Azerbaijan’s “non-relinquishing the protectorate of Nakhchivan to any third state.” The leadership of Soviet Azerbaijan tried by all means to avoid making such an obligation to the Turks. This was primarily due to the weakening of the position of the Turks by Azerbaijani diplomacy, which was obsessed with Soviet solidarity at the conference and took the joint stance with Armenia (Hasanli, 2012:433-434).

Thus, with the Treaty of Kars, it was finally decided that the Nakhchivan SSR would remain part of Azerbaijan. Armenian American historian Richard Hovannisian describes the signing of the Treaty of Kars as Soviet Russia sacrificing the Armenian issue in order to strengthen the alliance with Turkey (Cornell, 2015:62).

Formation of Nakhchivan ASSR

After Nakhchivan officially remained in Azerbaijan in January 1921, the Turkish army began to leave the region. The dual power that has existed in the region since 1917 (sometimes there were 3 and even 4 powers) was over. The Nakhchivan SSR formed its first independent government after the signing of the Treaty of Moscow. On April 4, 1921, a new government of the Nakhchivan SSR was formed. The composition of that government was as follows:

  1. Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars Abbas Gadimov (also the chairman of the Revolutionary Committee).
  2. Commissar for Emergency Situations, Post and Telegraph Sh. Aliyev.
  3. Chief of Nakhchivan garrison Abbasgulu bey Shadlinski.
  4. Chairman of the National Economic Council Mehdiyev.
  5. Health Commissar A. Abbasov.
  6. Financial Commissar Beneniyarski.
  7. Commissar for Education and Justice A. Rustamov.
  8. Land Commissar Hajilarov.
  9. Food Commissar Mammadov.
  10. Workers and Peasants’ Inspectorate Musayev.

In 1921-1924, when the Nakhchivan SSR was independent, its rights and powers were broader. Diplomatic and economic relations of the NSSR with Iran and Turkey, as well as with the Transcaucasian republics, were carried out through consulates and missions. Consulates of Nakhchivan in Maku, Khoy and Tabriz, Nakhchivan representation office under the Consulate of the RSFSR in Kars, Turkey, were established. The Turkish military representation office in Nakhchivan functioned until July 1924, and the Iranian consulate in Nakhchivan until November 17, 1938. Ismayilbey Jamalbeyov in Maku and Gasimbey Jamalbeyov in Tabriz were the first consuls of the Nakhchivan SSR. Balabey was the representative plenipotentiary of Nakhchivan in Kars. Representation offices of the Nakhchivan SSR were also established in Baku, Tbilisi and Yerevan. Aziz Sharif was appointed the representative of Nakhchivan in the Georgian SSR in January 1922 (Sadigov, 1995:26).

The state flag of the independent Nakhchivan SSR

After the signing of the Treaty of Kars, some changes were made in the state system and government mechanism of the Nakhchivan SSR. In December 1922, a special resolution of the First Congress of Transcaucasian Soviets on this issue stated: “The Republic of Nakhchivan should be considered an inalienable and integral part of the Azerbaijan SSR in the right of autonomy.” After that decision, the issue of Nakhchivan’s autonomy within the Azerbaijan SSR was discussed among the leadership of the Transcaucasian and Azerbaijani Communist Parties, and the Nakhchivan Regional Congress of Soviets was instructed to draft a relevant declaration. The status of Nakhchivan as an autonomous but indivisible part of the Azerbaijan SSR was confirmed in February 1923 by the TFSSR and the Russian CP(b). (Altstadt, 1992:127). The decision stated that “the entire Nakhchivan territory with its institutions should be included in the Azerbaijani SSR in the right of an autonomous territory.” Taking this into account, the 5th Congress of the Azerbaijan CP(b) held in March 1923 discussed the Nakhchivan issue in detail. It was noted that it would be more appropriate to recognize the region as an integral part of Azerbaijan in the right of autonomous unit, because a large district such as the Nakhchivan Republic having remained until recently under the protectorate of Azerbaijan did not meet a number of requirements. The third session of the second convocation of the Azerbaijani Soviets in June 1923 granted the request of the Nakhchivan Congress of Soviets, and on June 16, the Central Executive Committee of Azerbaijan decided to attach Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan (Hasanli, 2012:441-442). At Chicherin and Narimanov’s suggestion, the issue “On Nakhchivan” was discussed at the meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the RCP(b) on August 23, 1923. According to the decision, Chicherin’s proposals mentioned in the above letter were taken into account and the Central Committee Secretariat was instructed to “settle the Nakhchivan issue with the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee.”

The first state flag of the Nakhchivan ASSR (1925)

In December 1923, the leadership of the Azerbaijan Communist Party, taking into account the importance of the issue, proposed the establishment of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. On December 31, 1923, the Central Executive Committee of Azerbaijan decided to transform the Nakhchivan SSR into the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Azerbaijan SSR and asked the Transcaucasian Central Executive Committee to approve it. On January 8, 1924, the first plenum of the Transcaucasian CEC discussed the report on the transformation of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Territory into the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and the relevant decision of the CEC of Azerbaijan, and decided to transform the Nakhchivan Autonomous Territory into the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic within the Azerbaijan SSR. The first plenum of the Nakhchivan Central Election Commission was convened on January 18, 2006. The issue of transformation of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Territory into the Nakhchivan ASSR on the basis of the decisions of the Transcaucasian and Azerbaijan Central Executive Committees was discussed and approved. By the decision of the Plenum, the authorities of the Central Executive Committee of the Nakhchivan ASSR, the Council of People’s Commissariats and commissariats (land, internal affairs, education, health), as well as the People’s Commissariats of the Azerbaijan SSR (finance, labor, military commissariat) were established. The plenum elected a 7-member presidium of the CEC, and commissions on electrification, telephony and housing construction were established under the CEC of the Nakhchivan ASSR. Nakhchivan ASSR was administratively divided into three districts: Sharur, Ordubad and Nakhchivan. The decree of the Central Executive Committee of the Azerbaijan SSR dated February 9, 1924 established the transformation of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Territory into the Nakhchivan ASSR (Sadigov, 1995:29). The Council of People’s Commissars of Azerbaijan, headed by Gazanfar Musabeyov, demanded for Nakhchivan not only administrative but also political autonomy within the Azerbaijan SSR. Moscow accepted this demand, and in March 1924, with the establishment of the Nakhchivan ASSR, its political autonomy was ensured (Altstadt, 1992:105). Thus, the settlement of the Nakhchivan issue was completed legally.

References

Sources in Azerbaijani and English

Altstadt, Audrey (1992) The Azerbaijani Turks. Power and Identity under Russian Rule.

Bloxham,Donald (2005), The Great Game of Genocide Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians.

Cornell, Svante (2015), Azerbaijan Since Independence.

Həsənli, Cəmil (2012) Sovet dövründə Azərbaycanın xarici siyasəti (1920-1939). [Hasanli, Jamil (2012) Foreign policy of Azerbaijan in the Soviet period (1920-1939).]

Sadıqov, Səid (1995) Naxçıvan Muxtar Respublikası tarixindən. [Sadigov, Said (1995) From the History of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic]

Saparov, Arsene (2014) From Conflict to Autonomy in the Caucasus: The Soviet Union and the Making of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh.

Gümrü, Moskva və Qars müqavilələri (2004) [Treaties of Gyumri, Moscow and Kars]

Sources in Russian

Баберовски , Йорг (2010), Враг есть везде: Сталинизм на Кавказе. [Baberowski, Jörg (2010), The Enemy Is Everywhere: Stalinism in the Caucasus]

Багиров, Юсиф (1965) Из истории советско-турецких отношений в 1920-1922 гг. [Bagirov Yusif (1965) From the History of Soviet-Turkish Relations in 1920-1922]

Гулиева, Д (1989) К истории образования Нагорно-Карабахской автономной области Азербайджанской ССР. 1918— 1925. Документы и материалы. [Guliyeva, D (1989) On the History of the Formation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan SSR. 1918-1925. Documents and Materials]

Мадатов, Гараш (1968) Победа Советской власти в Нахичевани и образование Нахичеванской АССР. [Madatov, Garash (1968) Victory of Soviet power in Nakhchivan and Formation of the Nakhchivan ASSR]

Орешкова, Светлана (1999) Россия и Турция: проблемы формирования границ. [Oreshkova, Svetlana (1999) Russia and Turkey: Problems of Border Formation]

Саркисян А. А., Из истории деарменизации Нахичеванского края (1920–1921 гг.), 1990, Вестник общественных наук НАН АрмССР, № 9, Ереван, с. 74–93. [Sarkisyan A. A., From the history of the dearmenization of the Nakhichevan region (1920–1921), 1990, Bulletin of social sciences of the National Academy of Sciences of the Armenian SSR]

Шнирельман, Виктор (2003) Войны памяти: мифы, идентичность и политика в Закавказье. [Shnirelman, Victor (2003), The Wars of Memory: Myths, Identity, and Politics in Transcaucasia]


9 October 2017

With Trotsky at the head of the Petrograd Soviet, and with the Bolshevik Party in control of a growing majority of other soviets, the Bolsheviks are now the most powerful party in the Russian Revolution. However, significant differences have emerged within the party’s leadership regarding what course to take.

Petrograd: Lenin urges seizure of power

As working class support for the Bolsheviks surges, and the Provisional Government makes military preparations to crush the Revolution, Lenin, who remains in hiding in Finland, becomes convinced that a uniquely favorable opportunity is slipping away. On October 10 (September 27, O.S), he writes an exasperated letter to Ivar Smilga:

The general political situation causes me great anxiety. The Petrograd Soviet and the Bolsheviks have declared war on the government. But the government has an army, and is preparing systematically. . . And what are we doing? We are only passing resolutions. We are losing time. We set “dates” (October 20, the Congress of Soviets—is it not ridiculous to put it off so long? Is it not ridiculous to rely on that?). The Bolsheviks are not conducting regular work to prepare their own military forces for the overthrow of Kerensky.

It is my opinion that inside the Party we must agitate for an earnest attitude towards the armed uprising, for which reason this letter should be typed and delivered to the Petrograd and Moscow comrades. . . .

Lenin emphasizes that Smilga should make what preparations he can for the uprising among the troops in Finland and the Baltic fleet: “If we fail to do this, we may turn out to be consummate idiots, the owners of beautiful resolutions and of Soviets, but no power!

Meanwhile , peasant unrest surges in the countryside. The conflicts on the land seized by the peasants from the nobility are especially bitter and violent. When Kerensky’s government moves to crush the peasant revolts with military force, Lenin redoubles his insistence that the Bolsheviks take power immediately and stop the suppression of the peasantry.

From his Finnish hiding place, Lenin cannot know that Trotsky is, in fact, taking concrete steps toward the seizure of power, including the arming of the Red Guards. Lenin’s fear is that conservative tendencies in the party, concentrated around Kamenev and Zinoviev, might cause it to fall behind the tasks posed to the working class by the crisis.

His warnings from Finland are calibrated to prepare the Bolsheviks for the seizure of power. In this vein he denounces all those who would “tolerate three more weeks of war” and demands immediate preparations for storming government buildings in Moscow and Petrograd. However, Lenin’s position remains a minority. The Central Committee has suppressed Lenin’s writings calling for an immediate insurrection.

Within days of writing his letter to Smilga, Lenin writes “The Crisis Has Matured,” in which he excoriates those “in the Central Committee and the upper circles of the party” who are “in favor of waiting for the Congress of Soviets, against the immediate seizure of power, against immediate insurrection.” He writes:

To “wait” for the Congress of Soviets and so forth under such circumstances would be a betrayal of internationalism, a betrayal of the cause of the world socialist revolution.

For internationalism consists of deeds and not phrases, not expressions of solidarity, not resolutions.

The Bolsheviks would be traitors to the peasants, for to tolerate the suppression of the peasant revolt [would] ruin the whole revolution, to ruin it for good. An outcry is raised about anarchy and about the increasing indifference of the people, but what else can the people be but indifferent to the elections, when the peasants have been driven to revolt while the so-called ‘revolutionary democrats’ are patiently tolerating its suppression by military force!

The Bolsheviks would be traitors to democracy and to freedom, for to tolerate the suppression of the peasant revolt at such a moment would mean allowing the elections to the Constituent Assembly to be fixed in exactly the same way as the Democratic Conference and the “Pre-parliament” were fixed, only even worse and more crudely.

The crisis has matured. The whole future of the Russian revolution is at stake. The honor of the Bolshevik Party is in question. The whole future of the international workers’ revolution for socialism is at stake.. .

It would be sheer treachery to the peasants. To allow the peasant revolt to be suppressed when we control the Soviets of both capitals would be to lose, and justly lose, every ounce of the peasants’ confidence.. . .

To “wait” for the Congress of Soviets would be utter idiocy, for it would mean losing weeks at a time when weeks and even days decide everything. .. To “wait” for the Congress of Soviets is idiocy, for the Congress will give nothing, and can give nothing !

.. . The Bolsheviks are now guaranteed the success of the insurrection: (1) we can (if we do not “wait” for the Soviet Congress) launch a surprise attack from three points—from Petrograd, from Moscow and from the Baltic fleet (2) we have slogans that guarantee us support—down with the government that is suppressing the revolt of the peasants against the landowners! (3) we have a majority in the country (4) the disorganization among the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries is complete (5) we are technically in a position to take power in Moscow (where the start might even be made, so as to catch the enemy unawares) (6) we have thousands of armed workers and soldiers in Petrograd who could at once seize the Winter Palace, the General Staff building, the telephone exchange and the large printing presses. Nothing will be able to drive us out. . .

Lenin concludes his letter with his formal resignation from the Central Committee. “I am compelled to tender my resignation from the Central Committee, which I hereby do, reserving for myself freedom to campaign among the rank and file of the Party and at the Party Congress,” he writes. “For it is my profound conviction that if we ‘wait’ for the Congress of Soviets and let the present moment pass, we shall ruin the revolution.”

With Trotsky at the head of the Petrograd Soviet, and with the Bolshevik Party in control of a growing majority of other soviets, the Bolsheviks are now the most powerful force in the Russian Revolution. However, significant differences have emerged within the party’s leadership regarding what course to take.

On the “moderate” wing of the Bolshevik Party, a faction led by Kamenev supports Bolshevik participation in a broad coalition of “democratic” forces that would rule until a Constituent Assembly could be convened. This strategy is oriented towards the formation of a bourgeois republic in which the Bolsheviks would constitute one of the ruling parties.

On the opposite wing of the party, Lenin and his supporters are calling for an immediate insurrection in Moscow and Petrograd, supported by the armed working class, soldiers, and sailors. This Bolshevik government would immediately sue for peace, confiscate and distribute land to peasants, organize the food supply, and carry out the most extensive possible socialist measures.

The “Leninists in spirit,” led by Trotsky, call for the Bolsheviks to assume power at the upcoming Congress of Soviets scheduled for November 2 (October 20, O.S.). Trotsky argues that the transfer of power at this congress would be perceived by the masses as legitimate and would give expression to the popular slogan “Power to the Soviets!” Trotsky explains his position in the History of the Russian Revolution:

In co-coordinating the revolutionary efforts of the workers and soldiers of the whole country, giving them a single goal, giving them unity of aim and a single date for action, the slogan of the Soviet Congress at the same time made it possible to screen the semi-conspiratorial, semi-public preparation of an insurrection with continual appeals to the legal representation of the workers, soldiers and peasants. Having thus promoted the assembling of forces for the revolution, the Congress of Soviets would afterward sanction its results and give the new government a form irreproachable in the eyes of the people.

Washington D.C., October 9: White House censor declares newspapers “may not say the Government is controlled by Wall Street”

In explanation of a new Executive Order from President Wilson, the US Postmaster General Albert Burleson announces today that newspapers that “encourage insubordination. will be dealt with severely,” under White House powers claimed from the recent Trading With the Enemy Act and the earlier Espionage Act. Burleson explains:

We shall take great care not to let criticism which is personally or politically offensive to the Administration affect our action. But if newspapers go so far as to impugn the motives of the Government and thus encourage insubordination, they will be dealt with severely.

For instance, papers may not say that the Government is controlled by Wall Street or munition manufactures, or any other special interests. Publications of any news calculated to urge people to violate the law would be considered grounds for drastic action. We will not tolerate campaigns against conscription, enlistment, sale of securities, or revenue collections. We will not permit the publication or circulation of anything hampering the war’s prosecution or attacking improperly our allies.

In order to use the mails, foreign language newspapers must first receive a license from the federal government, and they must submit, with every issue, an English language translation of their editions. Whether they will be licensed, however, depends “on their past utterances” according to the New York Times, which does not figure to be much affected by the rules.

Especially targeted are socialist newspapers. The Times notes that socialist newspapers will not be blocked from the mails unless they contain “treasonous or seditious matter.” However, Burleson, whose other notable achievement in the Wilson administration has been the reintroduction of segregation in the federal workforce, explains, “The trouble is that most Socialist papers do contain this matter.”

Berlin, October 9: Fall-out from sailors’ revolt triggers government crisis

German Chancellor Georg Michaelis

At a stormy session in the German Reichstag (parliament), the government tries in vain to gather support for proceeding against the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) on the charges of high treason in the wake of a major revolt by sailors. The events trigger yet another government crisis which will lead to the resignation of the German Chancellor.

Early in the morning, prior to today’s planned sitting of the Reichstag, Chancellor Georg Michaelis and State Secretary for the Navy Eduard von Capelle receive a telegram about the investigations in Wilhelmshaven into this summer’s sailors’ movement which have already resulted in several death sentences. According to the telegram, one of the accused, the boilerman Paul Calmus, has admitted to having met with USPD Reichstag deputies Wilhelm Dittmann and Georg Ledebour, who allegedly instigated the sailors’ movement in alliance with English and French officers.

The Reichstag sitting proceeds in a stormy atmosphere. USPD deputy Dittmann begins by asking the State Secretary for the Navy von Capelle if it is true that in the navy, hundreds of years of jail sentences have been imposed, death sentences issued and two already carried out. Wide sections of the population are deeply embittered about these actions, he continues. The Chancellor immediately answers: Dittmann is least of all entitled to speak about actions taken in the army or navy. He belongs to a party which endangers the existence of the German Reich. This brief answer triggers not only a “storm of outrage” (according to the official record of the sitting) from USPD members, but also from the Social Democratic Party, Centre Party and Progress Party.

Only the Conservatives and National Liberals, a small minority in the Reichstag, back the government in its attempt to crack down on the USPD.

The right-wing Progress Party and social chauvinist SPD’s sudden alliance with the USPD is not the result of principled opposition to German militarism, let alone feelings of solidarity and sympathy with the executed soldiers. It is rather the fear that open support for the government could lead to the rebellious moods brewing in the population culminating in a revolutionary movement. As a result of the increasingly threatening news from Russia about the rise of the Bolsheviks, this fear has been growing rapidly over recent days.

The cross-party committee wants to compel the government to institute domestic reforms, including reform of the Prussian electoral law and an easing of the state of siege so as to retain the class truce and “banish the Bolshevik danger in Germany.” Michaelis is ready to adopt this course, but within a few days it becomes clear he his incapable of carrying it through.

Soon after the session, it emerges that the testimony by Paul Calmus, which has formed the main basis for the accusation of high treason against the USPD, is a forced, false confession, and the Chancellor’s position becomes untenable. Facing a demand to either confess or be sentenced to death, Calmus indicated a date for his alleged meeting with USPD politicians in Berlin when, as he knew, they were in fact at a “Peace Conference” in Stockholm.

Kiev, October 10 (September 27 O.S.): Declaration by General Secretariat raises specter of Ukraine's separation from Russia

The General Secretariat of the Ukrainian Rada (parliament), which was formed in the wake of the February Revolution, takes yet another step toward a complete separation of Ukraine from Russia. The declaration calls for a Ukrainian constituent assembly, agricultural reforms, a reorganization of the banking, taxation, and education systems. The Rada’s secretariats in charge of food, communications, post offices and telegraphs, justice and war are reestablished, amounting to the de facto formation of an independent Ukrainian government.

The growing separatist movement in Ukraine has for months been a central component of the ever deepening political crisis of the Provisional Government, which refuses to grant any additional concessions to the Ukrainian national movement. In June, the adoption of the First Universal (Pervyi Universal), which proclaimed Ukrainian independence, helped precipitate the downfall of the second coalition government. Relations between Petrograd and the Rada have been strained ever since. The Ukrainian national movement, which is deeply hostile to the Bolsheviks’ cause, grew again in strength with the aborted Kornilov coup.

In response to the declaration, the Kadets, who fervently oppose an independent Ukrainian state and seek to defend the territorial integrity of Russia by all means, withdraw from the Rada. The representatives of the two major national minorities in Ukraine, the Jews and the Poles, are also taken aback by the declaration. They oppose a separation from Russia and fear—not without reason—that the Ukrainian-dominated new government would curtail the rights of national minorities and lead to an increase of ethnic and religious strife.

The Provisional Government in Petrograd, itself in deep crisis, moves swiftly to prevent a separation of Ukraine. It orders an investigation against the Rada’s General Secretariat, threatening to bring it to trial.

Flanders, October 12: Thousands slaughtered in the mud near Passchendaele

New Zealand artillery firing during the battle

The first battle of Passchendaele erupts between a joint Australian-New Zealand force and German troops on the Western Front near the village of that name, which the Allies hope to control in order to disrupt the Germans’ supply system. The attack is a gruesome failure, due in part to incorrect information about the extent of previous advances, but also the worsening weather conditions.

With 846 deaths recorded on October 12 alone, New Zealand loses approximately one one-thousandth of its population in a single day. More than 2,000 New Zealanders are also injured. New Zealand’s blackest day would be described in 2007 by historian Glyn Harper, who wrote that “more New Zealanders were killed or maimed in these few short hours than on any other day in the nation’s history.”

While the German command considers the battle to have been a defensive success, casualties are unsustainably high. The 195th division was decimated between October 9 and 12, losing 3,325 men. Official estimates of overall German casualties were 12,000 for the period October 11 to 20, with an additional 2,000 reported missing.

The British, Australian and New Zealand commanders persist with their attack plans despite heavy rain, which has turned the ground to mud since the beginning of October. This has made artillery extremely ineffective, since guns can no longer be moved into position. Even those which can still fire unload their shells onto waterlogged ground, resulting in the exploding shells having a limited impact.

The British commanders call off further attacks on October 13 following the failure of the previous day. New troops, including the Canadian Corps, are brought in to reinforce the front for the next attack later in the month. Meanwhile, the Germans commit all of their reserves to hold their positions October 12, and are forced to cancel the deployment of two divisions to Italy in order to strengthen their lines.

Lübeck, October 15: SPD newspaper raises funds and appeals for the continuation of the war

Advertisement on page 3 of the Lübecker Volksbote from October 15, 1917. The headline reads, “Wives! Mothers!”

The Social Democratic newspaper Lübecker Volksbote prominently publishes an appeal to contribute to the latest war loan. The war loan is aimed at helping to finance new offensives and the “continuation of the war until victory“ with the population’s money.

Mothers, think of your children! When you were still young and helpless, each of you surely once thought: ‘My child ought to have a good life!’ How much more does this apply now, you mothers! Your children must live to see better times than we are going through. Shame on us if they come to us and say: why did you not relieve us then and stay with us until the end?

Mothers, every penny you loan to the fatherland improves the future for your children! So help, so they will not have to live in want one day and can become a free, strong people: sign up for the war loan!

The Lübecker Volksbote, one of the SPD’s many provincial newspapers, focuses on a daily basis on reporting the “victorious“ battles of the German army, while celebrating the enemy’s high casualties. The entire newspaper is devoted to the war propaganda of the Supreme Army Command (OHL), its lies, and even its slogans to continue the war. The full spirit of these slogans is always retained, and often they are even printed word for word. Only isolated reports are prepared by the social democrats, with which the newspaper seeks to maintain the appearance of an organ representing the interests of working people. For example, the article on the Third Battle of Ypres complains of the “boundless sacrifice” of the English workers’ blood, which is being shed for nothing against the unbeatable military strength of the German workers and their moral superiority. They are, after all, allegedly fighting a defensive war.

The Volksbote’s reporting is typical of the entire social democratic press. Since the outbreak of the war, it has been doing all in its power to convince the working class that it has to sacrifice for the “defense of the fatherland.” Over 100 daily newspapers, the workers’ comparatively high level of education, their discipline and readiness to fight, millions of marks in contributions and donations to the party: everything the workers fought for decades to establish is expended to fuel the war. The Supreme Army Command could never have reached workers’ households in the large and provincial cities, and the villages with their slogans to continue the war and lies about victories, had the SPD’s apparatus and daily newspapers not assumed this task. Without the SPD and its propaganda apparatus, it would have been impossible to wage the war for so long on all fronts.

October 15 (October 2, O.S.): Anti-Jewish pogrom in the southern Russian city of Roslavl’

An anti-Jewish pogrom erupts in the southern Russian city of Roslavl’. The pogrom erupts in the evening, one day after the city Soviet passed a resolution to proceed against speculators. Most of the pogromists are reportedly soldiers. Demanding galoshes (rubber boots) and shouting “Beat the Yids,” the mob loots Jewish shops and homes. At least two men are killed, and 12 wounded. Many Jews flee the city in panic.

Attempts by members of the Soviet and the Bolshevik party to calm down the rioters apparently yield no results. Patrols by soldiers deliberately refrain from preventing the looting of Jewish stores.

The city is in the midst of a severe economic and social crisis. In addition to 10,000 civilians, it has also been home during the war to 15,000 soldiers from the local garrison. The city, a major transit point for war refugees, also houses several thousand Polish refugees.

This is the first anti-Jewish pogrom in the city, which is home to the region’s second-largest Jewish population. It is part of a wave of anti-Semitic violence and pogroms that have swept through the crisis-ridden country over the past weeks. Pogroms and violent attacks on Jews have already occurred in cities such as Kharkov, Odessa, Kiev and Tiraspol.

As in the revolution of 1905, anti-Semitic agitation serves the government and reactionary social forces against the revolutionary masses. The Black Hundreds try to to whip up anti-Semitism in order to channel the growing political and economic frustration of the peasant-soldiers and workers into right-wing channels. Decades in which anti-Semitic propaganda, which places all blame for economic misery on the Jewish population and has been systematically promoted as a weapon against the socialist movement, have left their mark especially on the peasantry, which forms the bulk of the Russian army. Pogroms by Russian soldiers have occurred throughout the war in Eastern Europe, and especially during the retreat in 1916-17.

Vincennes, October 15: Mata Hari executed by French firing squad

Mata Hari on the day of her arrest, February 13, 1917

At 6:15 a.m., a 12-man firing squad carries out the execution of Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, better known by her artist name Mata Hari. Zelle, who gained popularity in influential circles in the decade prior to the war in France and other European capitals as an exotic dancer, was sentenced to death in July after being found guilty of spying for the Germans and acting as a double agent.

The facts surrounding Hari’s spy career remain contentious. It is beyond doubt that Hari entered the pay of the German intelligence service in late 1915. She was offered 20,000 francs, which she accepted as her dancing career was in decline. It is also known that the French intelligence agency later paid her money.

During 1916, Hari traveled from the Netherlands to France and later to Spain, where she had a contact at the German embassy. French intelligence became aware of her activities but did not immediately detain her when she returned to Paris in January 1917. She was finally arrested in mid-February, and her trial took place in July. After just a day and a half in court, the military judge found her guilty of high treason and being a double agent.

Widely divergent interpretations of Hari’s guilt and spying activities will later be offered. The claim that she was able to provide valuable information to the Germans, causing the deaths of thousands of soldiers, will largely be discredited. Sam Waagenaar, who will write a book on the subject in the 1960s, puts forward the position that Hari was innocent. France exploited her as a scapegoat for the worsening military situation facing the country during 1917 and mounting anti-war sentiments among the population, others would suggest. The Mata Hari Working Group, based in Leeuwarden, the city of her birth, would reach the conclusion that different intelligence agencies used Hari as a political football and she ultimately paid with her life for being aware of compromising information about high-ranking politicians. The information she passed to the Germans was of little value.

The French authorities would reject three attempts, the last in 2001, to overturn Hari’s conviction and designate her death as a judicial murder.

The many unanswered questions surrounding Hari’s career also led to a proliferation of books and films, including 1931’s Mata Hari starring Greta Garbo in the title role.

Also this month: Andreas Latzko publishes bestselling anti-war book

Andreas Latzko publishes bestselling anti-war book

Among the authors in Switzerland advocating peace during the war is Austro-Hungarian writer Andreas Latzko. He writes six stories which first appear in René Schickele’s journal The White Pages [Die Weissen Blätter]. Later in 1917, they are published anonymously in a book titled Men in War. The volume is a resounding success, and with its third edition of 20,000 copies becomes a bestseller in October. It is translated into 19 languages.

The book finds Latzko working through his own war trauma. The writer Romain Rolland later reflects in his diary on what Latzko has told him of his experiences: “He had a severe nervous shock. He had seen how two oxen and three men had been torn to pieces by an artillery shell. At first sight, he felt nothing. But two days later, when someone placed a plate with bloody steaks on his table, he began to howl, spit and became seized by convulsions. For six months he had tremors throughout his body and avoided food.” Latzko loses up to 85 pounds and is sent to Switzerland to recover, where he remains until the end of the war.

Latzko’s writing is intense and filled with great psychological empathy. It shows different facets of the war and what it does to human beings. In the first chapter, “Off to War,” he writes:

The time was late in the autumn of the second year of the war the place, the garden of a war hospital in a small Austrian town, which lay at the base of wooded hills, sequestered as behind a Spanish wall, and still preserving its sleepy contented outlook upon existence . Every human sound coming through the windows fell upon the silence like a furious attack. It was a wild denunciation of the war that out there at the front was doing its work, discharging mangled human bodies like so much offal and filling all the houses with its bloody refuse.

Men wounded in various ways are found there, many of whom, like the cavalry captain with his leg in plaster, consider their injuries a stroke of luck:

…they were sitting chatting in front of the hospital on benches moved together to form a square. They spoke of the war and – laughed, laughed like happy schoolboys discussing the miseries of examinations just gone through. Each had done his duty, each had had his ordeal, and now, under the protection of his wound, each sat there in the comfortable expectation of returning home, of seeing his people again, of being fêted, and for at least two whole weeks, of living the life of a man who is not tagged with a number.

In contrast to the “shell-shocked” soldier gone mad in his trauma, who denounces women, wives, mothers and fiancées for allowing their men, sons and loved ones to march off to war, Latzko describes how the newly married wife of his comrade Dill throws roses after him as he goes off to war. Dill is killed right next to him, just as he shows him a photo of his wife:

[A]nd Dill fell over with his dashing wife’s picture in his hand and a boot, a leg, a boot with the leg of a baggage soldier sticking in his head—a soldier that the twenty-eighter had blown to pieces far away from where we stood.

In the chapter “The Victor,” the author writes of the military base and the fairy-tale “wishing-table” of luxury enjoyed by the supreme command and the war profiteers:

No worry, no disputing, no stinting of one’s self to be borne with a sigh. With an air of boredom one stuffed his pockets with greenbacks, which were really quite superfluous in this lazy man’s paradise that the war had opened up to its vassals … The general knew that the crowd gaily thronging in the sun would not read in the newspaper till the next morning that out at the front a fierce battle had been raging for the past twenty hours, and hardly sixty miles from the promenade shells were bursting without cease, and a heavy rain of hot iron was pouring down upon his soldiers.

Latzko’s condemnations of the rulers responsible for the war are done with a forcefulness found in few other anti-war books, though for decades they have been as good as forgotten:

Front—Enemy—Hero’s death—Victory—the curs rage through the world with frothing mouth and rolling eyes. Millions who have been carefully inoculated against smallpox, cholera and typhoid fever are chased into madness. Millions, on either side, are packed into cars—ride, singing, to meet each other, blow each other into bits, give their flesh and their bones for the bloody hash out of which the dish of peace is to be cooked for those fortunate ones who give the flesh of their calves and oxen to their fatherland for a hundred per cent profit, instead of carrying their own flesh to market for fifty cents a day!


Petrograd, The Red Flame Of Russia: An Alternate History

Here is version 3.0 of Petrograd, The Red Flame Of Russia. It will eventually be finished and will be updated occasionally until complete.

Petrograd, The Red Flame Of Russia: An Alternate History


In 1918, the nascent Soviet government which was formed following the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets faced a dire situation the spring and early summer of that year had brought with it the prospect of total annihilation by the counterrevolution, as the civil war raged across the former Russian Empire without ceasing. To make matters worse, a cholera outbreak in a Petrograd beset by supply problems, internal reaction both foreign and domestic, and rebellion only served to hasten the crisis as the city was evacuated and the capital moved to Nizhnii Novgorod. [1]

The Sovnarkom having departed hastily from Petrograd to the new capital, the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet formed in it's absence the Council of Commissars of the Petrograd Labor Commune (SK PTK). Furthermore, the Executive Committee would also form a local Cheka in Petrograd (PCheka) on March 9th, to be headed by the Bolshevik Moisei Uritsky.

The government of the SK PTK was initially composed as follows, with the Bolshevik Zinoviev as chairperson: Lunacharskii (enlightenment) Viacheslav Menzhinskii (finance) Mikhail Lashevich (food supply) Petr Stuchka (justice) Viacheslav Molotov (economy) Adolf Ioffe (social welfare) Miron Vladimirov (transportation) and Ivar Smilga (Petrograd Military District). All were Bolsheviks. [2]

The newly created SK PTK government soon found itself struggling to maintain order in Petrograd wherein dissent was strong amongst the workers, whom along with moderate socialists would found the Extraordinary Assembly of Delegates from Petrograd Factories and Plants (EAD). The EAD found widespread support in industrial areas due to the advent of food supply shortages in the city which were brought on by the loss of the Ukraine to the Germans after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which cut grain reserves in half by almost 350 million puds. [3] The EAD was further strengthened as a result of mass unemployment and inflation which inversely affected grain production in the countryside, causing only more unrest in the city.

The counterrevolution in Petrograd during the spring and summer of 1918 thrived under such tenuous conditions and, supported by the Entente powers, would take advantage of general disenchantment with the Soviet government as the crisis deepened. The PCheka, a clandestine organization created with the intent of safeguarding the emerging revolutionary order in Petrograd, operated independently of the national VCheka which had set itself up in the new capital at Nizhnii Novgorod. The two organizations, separate but similar in function, soon diverged in methods when it came to fighting counterrevolution.

The VCheka, formed on December 7th in place of the MRC and led by Felix Dzerzhinsky, sanctioned the shooting of alleged reactionaries-'counterrevolutionaries, speculators, thugs, hooligans, saboteurs, and other parasites'-on the spot on February 22nd during a meeting of the Sovnarkom between the Bolsheviks and Left SR's at the meeting, the Left SR's voted against a document entitled The Socialist Fatherland Is In Danger but were defeated in their attempts to curb the steadily increasing powers of the VCheka. What irked the Left SR's was the inclusion of a provision in the document which allowed for the execution of counterrevolutionaries and common criminals. Fears of a German attack deeper into Russia shook the ruling Bolshevik-Left SR coalition, prompting an excessive increase in the VCheka's powers virtually overnight.

The PCheka on the other hand was more moderate under the leadership of Uritsky, whom was against arbitrary executions and tried to prevent shootings of prisoners wherever possible. This did not stop Uritsky from being derisively named the 'Robespierre of Petrograd' despite his aversion towards the harsher tactics being utilized by the VCheka.

Regardless, Uritsky's attempts to lessen the impact of the PCheka's preemptive actions towards perceived counterrevolutionaries would soon be challenged following the assassination of Volodarskii. A commissar for the press, agitation, and propaganda in the SK PTK government, Volodarskii's sudden death ushered in a surge of popular violence from below in Petrograd. Zinoviev was against immediate repression despite urgings by workers and Krasnaia gazeta colleagues of Volodarskii to seek revenge. Lenin would recommend mass terror and was furious that so far leading Bolsheviks operating in Petrograd had refused to respond to the vengeful mood of workers.

Unbeknownst to the Bolsheviks, the Left SR Party had approved as a contingency option the assassination of leading German officials following the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets at their own Third All-Russian Left SR Party Congress. The Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets, largely expected to having been vote rigged by the Bolsheviks, produced a Bolshevik majority of 678 delegates to the Left SR's 269 delegates. Unable to challenge the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk through electoral means, the Left SR's central committee considered the proposal for assassinations.

Grigorii Smolianskii, as secretary of the CEC and as a member of the Left SR's Battle Organization, would go in secret to Berlin in an attempt to entangle German Social-Democrats into a conspiratorial plan to assassinate Kaiser Wilhelm II. Other key figures designated for assassination were General Eikhord, the commander of German occupation forces in the Ukraine and Count Mirbach, the German ambassador to Soviet Russia.

When the Social-Democrats refused to join the Left SR plot to murder the Kaiser, the Left SR's central committee made a final decision: General Eikhord was to be assassinated, whose death was meant to provoke Germany into resuming hostilities against Soviet Russia's budding revolutionary forces. [4] General Eikhord would be killed by Left SR Chekists in July, after several days of preparation occurring after the opening session of the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets held in Nizhnii Novgorod.

Unfortunately for the Left SR Party, no German retaliation took place. Unofficial telephone and telegraph communications were cut from within Nizhnii Novgorod, while motor traffic to and from the city was tightly regulated. While the VCheka headquarters was combed for the Left SR's leadership (the VCheka headquarters having become the command center for the Left SR Party), the Left SR Fifth Congress fraction was simultaneously found and arrested by the Soviet authorities.

Immediately branded as 'scoundrels' and 'new servants of the white guards' by the authorities, hundreds of Left SR cadre were soon arrested while many were summarily executed as well. Gradually, surely, all traces of the Left SR Party would be cast out from the soviets by extraordinary military-revolutionary troikas.

An immediate consequence of the Left SR's sudden ouster from the soviets and other governmental bodies countrywide would be the heightening of Red Terror. Despite Uritsky's best attempts to thwart the advent of Red Terror, his actions only served to delay its outbreak. The Red Terror, when combined with the removal of all other socialist, left-wing parties from participation in the Soviet government, would bring about the creation of the single-party state model in Soviet Russia.

With the Bolsheviks' rear effectively secured against further domestic opposition, the fight against the Whites in the Russian Civil War took top priority throughout the remainder of the year.

Section One Footnotes


[1]: In OTL the capital was moved from Petrograd to Moscow, a decision which was protested by the Bolshevik Zinoviev on the grounds that the new capital should be placed instead in a less crucial city as this would increase the likelihood of the capital moving back to Petrograd.


[2]: Later, during elections to the Sovkom of the Northern Oblast in May, four Left SR Party members would be given posts in the SK PTK government: Proshian, whom replaced the Bolshevik Moisei Uritsky as head of the Committee for Internal Affairs and of the Committee for the Revolutionary Security of Petrograd M. D. Samokhvalov (oblast control) Nikolai Kornilov (agriculture) and Leonid Bekleshov (post and telegraph).


[3]: A total of 650 million puds of grain had been reserved. An additional 110 million puds came from the North Caucasus, 143 million puds from the steppe borderlands and Western Siberia, with all the rest coming from the Central black earth region. With the loss of the Ukraine, coupled with the severing of grain reserves from the North Caucasus through the German occupation of Kursk and Voronezh, only about 150 million puds of grain could be relied upon.

[4]: In OTL Count Mirbach was assassinated by the Left SR Chekists Iakov Blumkin and Nikolai Andreev in Moscow.

History_Pintobean

What do people think of my TL so far? What are it's strengths/weaknesses? Is it good/bad?

As it is a work in progress, it is subject to changes here-and-there until I finish it.

The plot line involving the Soviet Union was originally going to be a minor part of a TL involving a different early United States (which was scrapped), but I then decided to make the TL solely about an alternate USSR and World War Two.

Section Two will involve an alternate Polish-Soviet War which will end in the fall of Warsaw (but to the dismay of Lenin the Red Army, exhausted and low on supplies, doesn't advance to Berlin and instead consolidates it's gains in a Poland carved up between Germany and the emerging Soviet state)

Other sections will document the rise of the Nazis in Germany (Lenin's "united front" strategy for Germany, in which he urged communists to ally with the far-right, unfortunately for him doesn't lead to revolution in the long run), as well as the rise of Leon Trotsky from within the Bolshevik Party, the outbreak of WWII over Czechoslovakia (as there is no Poland), etc.

I may visit my earlier ideas in a different TL after I finish this one.

I'm very iffy on that period of history so I will definitely be following this to see where you lead it. at least for the early period.

The second half what with WW2 - sounds interesting enough.

Would Uritsky really kill himself, you think?

History_Pintobean

The plot point with Uritsky I have already changed. I've been rethinking several parts of the story and will release more in the following days/weeks.

In total I have around a page of AH completed. My goal is 3-5 pages of story.

Rich Rostrom

It looks pretty good. I lack the knowledge to judge its authenticity, since it includes so much deep detail.

History_Pintobean

I find myself editing my story quite a bit. The part with Uritsky, IMHO, isn't improbable (he could have avoided assassination), and as for the part about him committing suicide, his death was based off of Adolf Joffe's suicide in 1927. (whom also wrote a detailed and long suicide note)

I'm partially rewriting the end of section 1, while section 2 will detail the years 1919-1921 (the height of the Russian Civil War + the Polish-Soviet War)

Each section of Part One will detail a certain year or years. Primarily my focus will be on the rise of Leon Trotsky to power from within the Bolshevik Party (I will attempt to make it realistic, and will try my best to avoid cliches) and then an alternate WWII over Czechoslovakia.

History_Pintobean

An update is coming in a week or two. Stay tuned for a revised section one and the addition of a section two (1919-21)

GiantMonkeyMan

History_Pintobean

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, everyone.

I've worked very had just on section one alone. Section two will be fun, I promise. It will mainly cover inner-party (Bolshevik) intrigue, the height of the Russian Civil War (i.e. it will briefly cover the numerous military engagements between the Red and White forces), and last but not least the (successful) Red Army engagement with Polish forces from 1919-21 will be heavily detailed wherein Warsaw falls in the end. (but not Berlin in real life Red Army forces were exhausted and low on supplies when they failed in OTL to seize Warsaw and I don't see it as realistic to have them march towards Berlin so soon after concluding hostilities with Poland + it's more interesting/realistic AH-wise to have Poland be carved up by the victor instead of having the [cliche] Red Army invasion of central/western Europe)

BTW-Part Two, if I make it (I'm leaving my AH open for a part two) will detail the alternate WWII. Part One is planned to end in a cliffhanger just before the outbreak of the ALT TL WWII.

History_Pintobean

I've updated my AH and will soon enough work on Part Two.

Part Two will cover the years 1919-21, primarily detailing the Russian Civil War and the Polish-Soviet War.

Feel free to comment on my AH and discuss. Cheers.

History_Pintobean

Here is the (final) edit for Section One. Section Two is coming soon.


In 1918, the nascent Soviet government which was formed following the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets faced a dire situation the spring and early summer of that year had brought with it the prospect of total annihilation by the counterrevolution, as the civil war raged across the former Russian Empire without ceasing. To make matters worse, a cholera outbreak in a Petrograd beset by supply problems, internal reaction both foreign and domestic, and rebellion only served to hasten the crisis as the city was evacuated and the capital moved to Nizhnii Novgorod. [1]

The Sovnarkom having departed hastily from Petrograd to the new capital, the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet formed in it's absence the Council of Commissars of the Petrograd Labor Commune (SK PTK). Furthermore, the Executive Committee would also form a local Cheka in Petrograd (PCheka) on March 9th, to be headed by the Bolshevik Moisei Uritsky.

The government of the SK PTK was initially composed as follows, with the Bolshevik Zinoviev as chairperson: Lunacharskii (enlightenment) Viacheslav Menzhinskii (finance) Mikhail Lashevich (food supply) Petr Stuchka (justice) Viacheslav Molotov (economy) Adolf Ioffe (social welfare) Miron Vladimirov (transportation) and Ivar Smilga (Petrograd Military District). All were Bolsheviks. [2]

The newly created SK PTK government soon found itself struggling to maintain order in Petrograd wherein dissent was strong amongst the workers, whom along with moderate socialists would found the Extraordinary Assembly of Delegates from Petrograd Factories and Plants (EAD). The EAD found widespread support in industrial areas due to the advent of food supply shortages in the city which were brought on by the loss of the Ukraine to the Germans after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which cut grain reserves in half by almost 350 million puds. [3] The EAD was further strengthened as a result of mass unemployment and inflation which inversely affected grain production in the countryside, causing only more unrest in the city.

The counterrevolution in Petrograd during the spring and summer of 1918 thrived under such tenuous conditions and, supported by the Entente powers, would take advantage of general disenchantment with the Soviet government as the crisis deepened. The PCheka, a clandestine organization created with the intent of safeguarding the emerging revolutionary order in Petrograd, operated independently of the national VCheka which had set itself up in the new capital at Nizhnii Novgorod. The two organizations, separate but similar in function, soon diverged in methods when it came to fighting counterrevolution.

The VCheka, formed on December 7th in place of the MRC and led by Felix Dzerzhinsky, sanctioned the shooting of alleged reactionaries-'counterrevolutionaries, speculators, thugs, hooligans, saboteurs, and other parasites'-on the spot on February 22nd during a meeting of the Sovnarkom between the Bolsheviks and Left SR's at the meeting, the Left SR's voted against a document entitled The Socialist Fatherland Is In Danger but were defeated in their attempts to curb the steadily increasing powers of the VCheka. What irked the Left SR's was the inclusion of a provision in the document which allowed for the execution of counterrevolutionaries and common criminals. Fears of a German attack deeper into Russia shook the ruling Bolshevik-Left SR coalition, prompting an excessive increase in the VCheka's powers virtually overnight.

The PCheka on the other hand was more moderate under the leadership of Uritsky, whom was against arbitrary executions and tried to prevent shootings of prisoners wherever possible. This did not stop Uritsky from being derisively named the 'Robespierre of Petrograd' despite his aversion towards the harsher tactics being utilized by the VCheka.

Regardless, Uritsky's attempts to lessen the impact of the PCheka's preemptive actions towards perceived counterrevolutionaries would soon be challenged following the assassination of Volodarskii. A commissar for the press, agitation, and propaganda in the SK PTK government, Volodarskii's sudden death ushered in a surge of popular violence from below in Petrograd. Zinoviev was against immediate repression despite urgings by workers and Krasnaia gazeta colleagues of Volodarskii to seek revenge. Lenin would recommend mass terror and was furious that so far leading Bolsheviks operating in Petrograd had refused to respond to the vengeful mood of workers.

Unbeknownst to the Bolsheviks, the Left SR Party had approved as a contingency option the assassination of leading German officials following the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets at their own Third All-Russian Left SR Party Congress. The Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets, largely expected to having been vote rigged by the Bolsheviks, produced a Bolshevik majority of 678 delegates to the Left SR's 269 delegates. Unable to challenge the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk through electoral means, the Left SR's central committee considered the proposal for assassinations.

Grigorii Smolianskii, as secretary of the CEC and as a member of the Left SR's Battle Organization, would go in secret to Berlin in an attempt to entangle German Social-Democrats into a conspiratorial plan to assassinate Kaiser Wilhelm II. Other key figures designated for assassination were General Eikhord, the commander of German occupation forces in the Ukraine and Count Mirbach, the German ambassador to Soviet Russia.

When the Social-Democrats refused to join the Left SR plot to murder the Kaiser, the Left SR's central committee made a final decision: General Eikhord was to be assassinated, whose death was meant to provoke Germany into resuming hostilities against Soviet Russia's budding revolutionary forces. [4] General Eikhord would be killed by Left SR Chekists in July, after several days of preparation occurring after the opening session of the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets held in Nizhnii Novgorod.

Unfortunately for the Left SR Party, no German retaliation took place. Unofficial telephone and telegraph communications were cut from within Nizhnii Novgorod, while motor traffic to and from the city was tightly regulated. While the VCheka headquarters was combed for the Left SR's leadership (the VCheka headquarters having become the command center for the Left SR Party), the Left SR Fifth Congress fraction was simultaneously found and arrested by the Soviet authorities.

Immediately branded as 'scoundrels' and 'new servants of the white guards' by the authorities, hundreds of Left SR cadre were soon arrested while many were summarily executed as well. Gradually, surely, all traces of the Left SR Party would be cast out from the soviets by extraordinary military-revolutionary troikas.

An immediate consequence of the Left SR's sudden ouster from the soviets and other governmental bodies countrywide would be the heightening of Red Terror. Despite Uritsky's best attempts to thwart the advent of Red Terror, his actions only served to delay its outbreak. The Red Terror, when combined with the removal of all other socialist, left-wing parties from participation in the Soviet government, would bring about the creation of the single-party state model in Soviet Russia.

With the Bolsheviks' rear effectively secured against further domestic opposition, the fight against the Whites in the Russian Civil War took top priority throughout the remainder of the year.


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