|About Ron Ridenour|
[March 30, 2018]
(This part of the book describes international relations mainly between
the United States and the Soviet Union-Russia for nearly a century,
1917-1991. It is not my intent to delve into or analyze Russia’s
internal developments, socialism’s growth and failures, its leaders’
wisdom or lack thereof. I will present a few facts of some importance
inside Russia-Soviet Union but to find definitive reasons and theories
look in other books. I concentrate on war and peace—what motivations
are at work between the two systems: western capitalism and Russia’s
socialism or the nationalism of today.)
“Were they (Allies) at war with Soviet Russia? Certainly not; but they shot Soviet Russians at sight. They stood as invaders on Russian soil. They armed the enemies of the Soviet Government. They blockaded its ports, and sunk its battleships. They earnestly desired and schemed its downfall. But war – shocking! Interference – shame! It was, they repeated, a matter of indifference to them how Russians settled their own internal affairs. They were impartial – Bang!” (Winston Churchill) (1)
The 1917 October Revolution culminated the short-lived February Revolution
of 1917, which overthrew the Tsarist autocracy and resulted in a provisional
government. It began in Petrograd, Russian Empire’s capital (Saint
Petersburg), on February 23 (old calendar, March 8 new calendar). This
was International Women’s Day, which started in Germany on March
8, 1914. The 90,000-strong Petrograd march was led by women textile
workers seeking the right to vote, and protesting the lack of bread,
food shortages generally, largely due to World War I. The Bolsheviks
were not in the vanguard this time.
Seven days later, the last Emperor of Russia, Nicholas II, abdicated and the new Provisional Government granted women the right to vote. March 8 was declared a national holiday later in Soviet-led Russia.
When Russian workers struggled for reforms during the February Revolution, they had already created a history of revolutionary struggle to guide them. It was built upon the gains and abortions of the revolution of 1905, prompted by poverty, poor working conditions, and Russian losses in the war with Japan (1904-5). Widespread dissatisfaction with the government created conditions for a liberal opposition movement that demanded a legislative parliament. Nicolas 11 response was paternalistic. Reform, he explained, would be “harmful to the people God has entrusted to me”.
Workers had hoped that the Tsar would hear their petition for, “an eight-hour day, a minimum daily wage of one ruble (fifty cents), a repudiation of bungling bureaucrats, and a democratically elected constitutional assembly to introduce representative government into the empire.” (2)
Controversial Orthodox priest Georgy Gapon, who headed a police-sponsored workers’ association, led a huge workers’ procession to the Winter Palace to deliver the petition to the Tsar on Sunday, January 9, 1905.Troops guarding the Palace were ordered not to let demonstrators pass a certain point. Without warning, the Tsar’s men opened fire on the people, killing between 300 and 1000 and wounding hundreds more. “Bloody Sunday” signaled the start of the three-stage revolution until victory on October 26, 1917.
The massacre provoked great indignation, and a series of massive strikes spread quickly throughout the industrial centers of the Russian Empire. By the end of January 1905, over 400,000 workers in Russian Poland were on strike, and it grew to 90% of all workers there. In Riga, Latvia, 130 protesters were killed on January 13. A few days later, in Warsaw, over 100 strikers were shot on the streets. Half of European Russia’s industrial workers went on strike. There were also strikes in Finland and the Baltic coast. There were strikes in the Caucasus in February, and by April in the Urals and beyond. In March, all higher academic institutions were forcibly closed for the rest of the year. A strike by railway workers on October 21quickly developed into a general strike in Petrograd and Moscow. Two million workers were on strike and most railways were shut down.
Students also organized protests. In the countryside, peasants refused to pay rent. They seized land and burned down some 3,000 manor houses. The regime used the army to put down rural rebellions but by June the unrest had spread to the navy. There was a mutiny among sailors on the Battleship Potemkin, an event later made famous by film director Sergei Eisenstein.
While workers, peasants and students rebelled, Russians soldiers were being killed in the spurious war between its government and Japan, fought between February 4, 1904 and September 5, 1905 over which elitist leaders should control Manchuria and Korea. Surprisingly, Japan won.
During the war, Japan was able to invade and briefly occupy the entire Sakhalin Island, which had been a land border between the two nations. By the Treaty of Portsmouth, which concluded the war, Russia ceded the southern half of Sakhalin to Japan, while Japanese troops withdrew from its northern half. Thus for the first time, they shared a land border, which ran along the 50th parallel north across the entire island of Sakhalin, from the Strait of Tartary to the Sea of Okhotsk. The short Korea–Russia border also became part of the border between the Japanese and Russian Empires, and later (until 1945) between the Japanese Empire and the USSR. (3)
There was no other exchange of territory at the end of the war, but Russians were angry, and many anti-war protests took place, including unrest in army reserve units, and among sailors. As many as two thousand sailors were killed in the ensuing suppression.
Faced with the sustained movement of strikes and protests, the Tsar was forced to acknowledge reforms. His advisors drew up plans for a consultative parliament. In the early days of 1905 this concession may have been enough, but with the following months of militant action it was too little too late. In September, with the end of the Japanese war, the revolution culminated in a massive general strike. Printers struck in Moscow, and were joined by rail workers and then by millions more in cities across Russia.
The Tsar was forced to sign the October Manifesto, which established a slightly real parliament called the Duma. While there was general jubilation, the October Manifesto mainly satisfied the middle classes and the liberals. Workers and peasants soon sought more fundamental change.
The Council of United Nobility was created by the largest estate owners, a “gentry reaction” to “their” upstart serfs and peasants. They had one-third of Duma membership and could curtail or stop liberal reforms. The Tsar’s court backed them. Since the time of Ivan the Terrible (the Tsar of all the Russias in 1500s), the tsars had centralized their power while granting the nobility dominion over land and peasants—a system known as feudalism or serfdom. The combined imperial forces were able to disband the first Duma, claiming it was “too liberal”. Election rules were amended to prevent representation from the most threatening parts of society. The Duma became transformed from its original intent into a pillar of autocracy.
Emboldened, the Council of United Nobility established the Black Hundreds, which drew support from rich land owners, merchants, clergymen and policemen. They whipped up monarchist fervor and conducted anti-Semitic pogroms and violence against socialists and trade unionists. The Black Hundreds assisted the Tsarist regime maintain its rule, especially from 1906 until 1914, and lay the way for the future White Army.
The Black Hundreds lay low when Russia engaged in World War I. The
trigger for war came on June 28, 1914 with the assassination of Archduke
Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and
his wife Sophie. They were shot by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip,
in Sarajevo. (4) This set off a diplomatic crisis. Austria-Hungary inanely
declared war on Serbia, on July 28, over the act of this one man, and
Germany joined in. Russia’s monarchy started mobilizing an army.
Germany presented an ultimatum to Russia to demobilize. Russia refused
and Germany declared war against it, on August 1. Eventually the Central
Powers included Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey).
Russia entered the war with the largest army in the world, standing at 1,400,000 soldiers. At its peak there were five million soldiers with a supply of only 4.6 million rifles. By March 1917, ten million men, mostly poor peasants, had been forced into military service. Many of their wives were forced off the land and into factories to support the war effort.
The war wore upon Russians’ spirits and stomachs. By the time the Bolshevik leadership could end Russia’s participation, two percent of the 175 million-population was dead or wounded: about two million soldiers and 410,000 civilians killed; 730,000 deaths due to starvation and war-related diseases; 3.7-5 million wounded. (5)
Two wars and a revolution within 13 years time did not improve conditions for the people. The momentous year of 1917 was only eight days old when Russian activists took to the streets. On January 9, around 160,000 marched through St Petersburg in freezing temperatures to commemorate the Bloody Sunday massacre. In the coming weeks, workers and police clashed as World War II raged on under both the monarchy, and after its abdication in February with the bourgeoisie provisional government.
In April 1917, Germany allowed Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin to pass through its territory from his exile in Switzerland so that he could return to Russia. Germany sought to assist Lenin as he wished to end the war, in order to start a new Russia, and Germany wanted to concentrate on the other ally armies. Upon his arrival in Petrograd, Lenin proclaimed the April Theses, which included a call for ending the war, and turning all political power over to workers and soldiers.
Also in April, the new Provisional Government minister of foreign affairs, Pavel Milyukov, announced the government's desire to continue the war “to a victorious conclusion".
This aroused broad indignation and more protests and strikes. On May 1-4, Bolsheviks in Petrograd led about 100,000 workers and soldiers in protests, followed by more cities joining in under banners reading, “down with the war!” and “all power to the soviets!” The mass demonstrations resulted in a governmental crisis. Throughout July even more millions of workers and soldiers marched against the war, and “down with the ten capitalist ministers”.
Yet the government defied the people by opening an offensive against the Central Powers, which soon collapsed. On July 16, spontaneous demonstrations of workers and soldiers in Petrograd added the demand that power be turned over to the soviets—factory workers, sailors, soldiers, and local councils, initially set up during the 1905 revolution and now reconstituted. The Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party provided leadership to these movements.
On July 17, 500,000 people participated in what was intended to be a peaceful demonstration in Petrograd. The government, with the support of Socialist-Revolutionary Party-Menshevik (minority) leaders of the All-Russian Executive Committee of the Soviets, ordered an armed attack against the demonstrators, killing hundreds.
A pause in street activities ensued while soviet councils and Bolsheviks
discussed what to do next. Lenin fled to Finland under threat of arrest
while Leon Trotsky, among other prominent Bolsheviks, was arrested.
The July Days confirmed the popularity of the anti-war movement and
the radical Bolsheviks, but their failure to capitalize on July actions
temporarily lost them some support.
During the February Revolution, Bolsheviks had 24,000 members but by September there were 200,000. In early September, the Petrograd Soviet freed all jailed Bolsheviks and Trotsky became chairman of the capital’s Soviet. Lenin returned within days.
The moment to revolt seemed right in October. On the 23rd, the Bolsheviks’
Central Committee voted 10–2 for a resolution stating that, “an
armed uprising is inevitable, and the time for it is fully ripe”.
A revolutionary military committee was established led by Trotsky. It
included armed workers, sailors and soldiers, which assured the support
or neutrality of the capital’s garrison. The committee planned
to occupy strategic locations.
The “ten days that shook the world” actually entailed only two days of fighting, but there were no formal battles.
On October 25, Bolsheviks led their forces in the Petrograd uprising against the Alexander Kerensky-led Provisional Government. They quickly took over communication centers, electric plants, banks and rail stations. This coincided with the arrival of a flotilla of pro-Bolshevik Kronstadt marines.
The next day, government buildings were occupied. The Winter Palace (the seat of the Provisional Government) was captured with the loss of only two persons.
A new government, the Council of People’s Commissars, was set up: Vladimir I. Lenin, chairman; Leon Trotsky, foreign commissar; Aleksey Ivanovich Rykov, interior commissar; Joseph Stalin, commissar of nationalities.
Peace Land Bread
Bolsheviks promised the people Peace, Land, Bread. This core program embraced soldiers, factory workers and peasants, that is, most of the Russian people.
Peace: Withdraw Russia from World War I especially appealed to soldiers and sailors.
Land: A burning issue for peasants who had worked the land for centuries either as serfs or as peasants but owing rent to their masters. The peasants wanted to own their own land.
Bread: People everywhere especially in the cities and the army were
hungry and even starving. This was because too many young peasant men
were conscripted into the army, which left the lands fallow. Bolsheviks
prioritized feeding the people.
Immediately upon victory, the Decree on Peace, the Decree on Land and the Decree on an eight-hour work day, all written by Vladimir Lenin, were passed by the Second Congress of the Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies on October 26 (old calendar, November 8 on the new).
Several other Soviet decrees were made during November:
• All Russian banks were nationalized.
• Private bank accounts were expropriated, hardly affecting most people who had no accounts.
• The properties of the church (including bank accounts) were expropriated.
• All foreign debts were repudiated.
• Control of the factories was turned over to the soviets.
• Wages were fixed at higher rates, and an eight-hour working day was introduced.
As Russia started negotiating with Germany for peace, and the people’s decrees were being passed by the Soviet councils, the pro-monarchy nobility and its defeated Imperial army generals launched a counter-revolution, which the official church backed as did Western “allies”.
Russian Civil War
The Russian Civil War was forced upon the war weary people by the aristocracy’s White Army. In the Russian context after the 1917 revolution, “White” had three main connotations:
(1) Political contra-distinction to the revolutionary Reds whose Red Army supported the Bolshevik government.
(2) Historical reference to absolute monarchy, specifically recalling Russia's first Tsar, Ivan III (1462–1505) when some called the ruler of Muscovy Albus Rex (“the White King”).
(3)The white uniforms of Imperial Russia worn by some White Army soldiers
Alexander Kerensky, the deposed head of the provisional government and commander of the Imperial Army, had managed to escape arrest. He assembled his loyal troops from the Northern Front. Pro-revolutionary troops soon defeated them at Pulkova. By December, central Russia and Siberia were under control by the revolutionary government.
On December 15, 1917, an armistice between Russia and the Central Powers was made and fighting stopped. December 22, peace negotiations began at Brest-Litovsk, Poland.
The Russian government demobilized the old army, and in January 1918, the government ordered the formation of the Red Army of Workers and Peasants. Leon Trotsky was made commissar of war and headed the Red Army from March 13 until displaced by Stalin. In addition to Russians, there were some foreigners fighting alongside and even in the Red Army. These included several thousand Chinese, who had been construction workers in Novgorod and near the Gulf of Finland. Most were not political but they became soldiers, in order to gain rights and perhaps citizenship. There were also some Hungarian Jews, Czech and Slovak nationals, and a few Red Latvian Riflemen while White Latvian Riflemen sided with the White Army.
As the new army was forming, General Lavr Kornilov organized the Volunteer Army numbering 3,000 men. Others who opposed the Bolshevik government soon joined. The Kuban Cossacks aligned with the White Army. Cossacks are a group of predominantly East Slavic-speaking people, mainly located in the Ukraine and Russia’s Kuban region in Northwest Caucasus.
In late February 1918, 4,000 soldiers under the command of General Aleksei Kaledin were forced to retreat from Rostov-on-Don by the advancing Red Army. In what became known as the Ice March, they traveled to Kuban in order to unite with the Cossacks. In March, 3,000 men under the command of General Viktor Pokrovsky joined the Volunteer Army, increasing its membership to 6,000, and by June to 9,000.
By February, Trotsky was frustrated with growing German demands for cessions of territory and he announced a new policy on the 10th. Russia unilaterally declared an end of hostilities against the Central Powers, and withdrew from peace negotiations—a position summed up as “no war – no peace”. The consequences for the Bolsheviks were worse than what they had feared. The Central Powers repudiated the armistice, and soon seized most of Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic countries. A German fleet approached the Gulf of Finland and Petrograd. On February 19, the Bolsheviks sent a radio message to the Germans agreeing to the original peace treaty, but the Central Powers sent new terms requiring greater territorial concessions.
Russia sent a new delegation headed by Georgy Chicherin and Lev Karakhan with instructions to accept their demands. On March 3, 1918, Russia agreed to terms worse than those they had previously rejected. This amounted to surrendering over 25% of Russia’s population so that the rest could begin to rebuild the devastation the wars were causing. Immediately after signing the treaty, Lenin moved the Russian government from Petrograd to Moscow.
The end of hostilities with the Central Powers did provide some relief to the people and the Red Army. There was one less enemy to fight—one down, two to go: one internal and another foreign. The initially volunteer red army suffered so many loses and had so many enemies that the government was forced to introduce conscription in June.
West Intervenes in Russia
Allied intervention entailed a multi-national military expedition launched in summer 1918. The first to intervene were Britain and France, followed by the U.S., Canada, Italy, Romania, Greece, Poland, and Japan. The West sent over 100,000 troops to assist another 100,000 Czechs and Slavs (the Czechoslovak Legion) backing the anti-revolutionary White Army. At times, the Czechoslovak Legion controlled the entire Trans-Siberian railway and several Siberian cities.
The Western allies armed and supported Bolshevik opponents. They were worried about:
(1) A possible Russo-German alliance or, at least, greater numbers of German troops to fight.
(2) The prospect of the Bolsheviks defaulting on Imperial Russia's massive foreign loans.
(3) Fear that revolutionary ideas would spread. It was imperative to prevent success of the new government’s socialist agenda—one that if not quelled could lead the world into a unique era of peace-land-bread for all. The U.S. strategy later became known as, “the domino theory”.
Winston Churchill declared that Bolshevism must be “strangled in its cradle”.
Besides aiding the Czechoslovak Legion, the West secured supplies of munitions and armaments in some Russian ports, and re-established the Eastern Front hoping to reverse the revolutionary victory. Allied efforts were hampered by their troops’ war-weariness after they had just finished the greater conflict, and a lack of domestic support. Most Russian troops in the Imperial Russian Army had given up the World War, shook hands with German troops and went home. Many of them now supported the revolution.
The Japanese sent the largest military force, about 70,000. The Imperial Japanese Army General Staff viewed the situation in Russia as an opportunity for settling Japan’s “northern problem”; they sought a buffer state in Siberia. The Japanese government was also hostile to communism.
The U.S. had come into the world war late, April 2, 1917. Upon the revolutionary victory in Russia half a year later, the government and the mass media immediately started a hysteria campaign against Bolshevikism/Communism, which lasted until 1991 with the end of the Soviet Union. Westerners were to learn to fear Communists, those cannibal monsters who even eat children.
“Literally no story about the Bolsheviks was too contrived, too bizarre, too grotesque, or too perverted to be printed and widely believed – from women being nationalized to babies being eaten (as the early pagans believed the Christians guilty of devouring their children; the same was believed of the Jews in the Middle Ages). The story about women with all the lurid connotations of state property, compulsory marriage, ‘free love’, etc. ‘was broadcasted over the country through a thousand channels,” wrote Frederick Schuman, “and perhaps did more than anything else to stamp the Russian Communists in the minds of most American citizens as criminal perverts”. (6)
In July 1918, President Woodrow Wilson sent 5,000 United States Army troops to northern European Russia at Arkhangelsk and seized the White Sea port. They became known as the “American North Russia Expeditionary Force”. In August, 8,000 soldiers from occupied Philippines (and from California) were shipped to Vladivostok, a major Pacific port city near the borders with China and North Korea.
The State Department told Congress: “All these operations were to offset effects of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.”
The capitalist states of the U.S. and allies would rather war, in order to maintain and extend private property and wealth, than establish a peaceful world. Their slogans could have been: War, Land and Lobsters for the Rich.
Gaither Stewart, a novelist with three books concerning Russia, and an editor for The Greenville Post explains what the West’s interest in Russia was, and still is:
“The West in general and the USA in particular envy Russia
for: its natural wealth much of which is still buried under the soil
beyond the Ural Mountains. Why should they have all that wealth is the
U.S. attitude, part of the justification for its great plot to subjugate
Russia and split it up into small states [also a contemporary vision].”
Yet the West did not achieve its will. Russia is the world’s largest country, and Russians far outnumbered the combined armies they sent. Conditions for their troops were also miserable, and many Western soldiers, including US Americans, were tired of war and reluctant to fight. The last U.S. troops left Russia on April 1, 1920. Four hundred and twenty-four had died of various causes, most from battle.
Major General William Graves, who commanded the American Expeditionary Force, wrote in his memoirs: “I do not know what the United States was trying to accomplish by military intervention.”
General Graves said he had conflicting orders: help the counter-revolutionaries but don’t interfere in internal affairs. Yet his soldiers destroyed 25 villages in the eastern Russian Amur district alone, wrote the Red Star, the Russian army’s official publication. “In March 1919…they attacked the totally peaceful village of Ivanovka, burned it down and killed 1,300 inhabitants.” (7)
The civil war continues without the West
Between May and October 1919, the White Army grew from 64,000 to 150,000 soldiers. Thanks to nobility wealth and Western financing, they were better supplied than the Red Army. Nevertheless, they met defeat after defeat by soldiers fighting for their own land and bread. The Red Army defeated the White forces in the Ukraine, and the army led by Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak in Siberia, in 1919. The remains of the White forces commanded by Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel were beaten in Crimea and survivors left Russia in late 1920.
The Polish–Soviet War (February 1919-March 1921) was particularly bitter. It was fought within the context of the Russian Civil War but also over border lines, the current foreign invasion and potential ones in the future. Both sides lost nearly equal numbers of soldiers, about 100,000 killed and 200,000 wounded.
The war ended with the Treaty of Riga, March 18, 1921. The Soviet-Polish borders established by the treaty remained in force until the Second World War. They were later redrawn during the conferences at Yalta and Potsdam.
Although most of Ukraine fell under Bolshevik control and eventually became one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union, other parts of the Russian Empire—the Baltic States and Finland—emerged as independent countries. They could now have their own civil wars.
The rest of the former Russian Empire was consolidated into the Soviet Union, December 28, 1922. A conference of delegations from Russia, the Ukraine and Byelorussia approved a treaty, which created the Soviet Union, formally named the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
The war officially was now ended, although lesser battles continued on the periphery in the Far East until late 1923. National resistance in Central Asia was not completely crushed until 1934.
Japan had occupied the northern part of Sakhalin in 1920-1925. Soviet control of northern Sakhalin was established in 1925, and the 50th parallel became the Japan-USSR border. The last Japanese troops then left Russia.
The Red Army now had five million men. Most were demobilized; 600,000 were retained to form a regular army. The Russian Civil War caused an estimated 7,000,000–12,000,000 casualties, mostly civilians. As many as three-five million died of starvation and war-related diseases. This was the greatest national catastrophe ever seen in one country in Europe.
Russia finally was at peace, land was being used by and for the people, and gradually more people were eating more bread. But peacetime was short lived due to more Western capitalist interventions.
1. Winston Churchill, The World Crisis: The Aftermath, London, 1929, p. 235. Churchill was Britain’s Minister of War. As such he sent allied troops to battle on the side of the “White Army”.
2. R.R. Palmer, A History of the Modern World, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1960, p. 715. See also:
3. The war caused both sides around 300,000 casualties. Russians killed range from 40,000 to 70,000, with 150,000 wounded and 75,000 captured. Japanese killed in combat was put at about 47,000, between 6,000 and 12,000 wounded, and around 27,000 additional casualties from disease. China suffered 20,000 civilian deaths.
4. Princip was associated with the movement Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia) which consisted of Serbs, and some Bosniaks and Croats. On trial, he stated: “I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs. I do not care what form of state, but it must be freed from Austria.” Princip died on April 28, 1918 from tuberculosis caused by poor prison conditions.
5. Total deaths on all sides were about 18 million; 23 million wounded. Eleven million soldiers and seven million civilians died—three million from typhus alone. The Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, Ottoman Empire/ Turkey) suffered casualties of between 5 and 8 percent of their populations: 3-4.5 million military killed; 1.6 million civilians killed plus 2-2.3 million deaths due to starvation and war-related diseases. The entente-allies’ populations collectively suffered 1 percent casualties: 5 to 6.5 million military deaths; 630,000 civilians killed plus 3.4-3.8 million deaths due to starvation and war-related diseases. Of these, US Americans suffered only 0.13 percent casualties of its 92 million people: 53,000 soldiers killed, 116,000 died from all causes; 757 civilians died. 204,000 military wounded.
6. Citing Frederick L. Schuman, American Policy Toward Russia Since 1917 (New York, 1928), p. 154.
7. “1918 Occupation Force: Forgotten War: Yanks in Russia,” wrote William Eaton, reporter for the “Los Angeles Times”, March 10, 1987
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