Prince Lvov wrote to the American businessman Charles Crane on 12 October 1918:
Bolshevism has found a fertile soil in the base and anarchistic instincts of the people. It is in this sense a Russian sickness, and can only thus be cured by foreign intervention. The re-establishment of order and of the healthy forces in Russia can only be achieved under the protection of an organized army.
The Prince had long pinned his hopes for Russia's liberation on the United States. Unlike other counter-revolutionaries, he had no illusions of a popular uprising against the Bolsheviks. Four chaotic months at the head of the Provisional Government had made him sceptical about the potential of the Russian people as a constructive democratic force. 'Georgii is very down in the mouth,' Lvov's aunt had noted in her diary after a visit to him in his Cheka jail in Ekaterinburg on 13 March. 'He is convinced that Russia lacks the strength to organize its own salvation, since it has been destroyed and its salvation can only come from the outside.' Lvov did not believe in the Cossack Vendee in the south. He looked instead to Siberia, where there was more hope of an Allied intervention in that spring.1
For three months Lvov sat in prison. His Bolshevik jailer, a former piano-maker from Petrograd, took an immediate liking to the Prince and allowed him to put his agricultural knowledge to the benefit of the other inmates by reorganizing the prison farm so that they had meat and fresh vegetables to eat. Even behind bars Lvov carried on with the practical zemstvo-type reforms with which he had always occupied himself. Goloshchekin, the militant Bolshevik leader in Ekaterinburg, wanted Lvov shot for his alleged involvement in a counter-revolutionary plot. But Poliakov, the Left SR Commissar for Justice in the city, had his doubts about the merits of the case, and the judges, who had no evidence, were eventually forced to set Lvov free. There is a story — though it has never been proved — that Lenin had pleaded with the Ekaterinburg leaders to let the former Prime Minister go. After his release Lvov fled to Omsk and attached himself to the Siberian government. It was on its behalf that he left in September for the United States, travelling via Vladivostok, to plead the case for Allied intervention in the White campaign against the Bolsheviks.2
So far the story of Allied intervention had been something of a farce. None of the Western powers knew what their aims were in Siberia; but neither did any of them want to be left out. Under the pretext of guarding Allied stores and keeping the Trans-Siberian Railway open, Western troops were landed in Vladivostok. The British were the first to arrive in early July with the Middlesex Battalion led by Colonel Ward, the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent. It was a real Dad's Army. Made up of men declared unfit for battle, it was known as the 'Hernia Battalion'. In their smart new khaki uniforms, patently unsuitable for the harsh conditions of Siberia, they soon became an object of ridicule. They were fodder not for cannons but for cartoons. French and US troops arrived soon after, followed by the Japanese, but their purpose remained unclear. The Western powers wanted a stable government in Siberia in order to resurrect the Russian army and reconstitute the Eastern Front against the Central Powers. But the Japanese, who had ambitions to annex Russia's Far East, wanted, on the contrary, instability. Both sought to serve their separate purposes by financing the Cossack warlord, Grigorii Semenov, whose regime in Chita claimed to control the mountainous terrain east of Lake Baikal. In fact Semenov served no one but himself. Like the other warlords of the Far East, Kalmykov and Ungern-Sternberg, Semenov was less a politician than a bandit. His mercenary troops robbed and murdered the local population with quite unspeakable barbarism. Never have the taxes of the Western democracies been so criminally wasted.3
With the advent of Kolchak, the Allies at last had a Russian national hero whom they could back with confidence against the Bolsheviks. Thanks to the support of General Knox, the head of the British military mission, Kolchak received more aid from London than any other leader of the Whites. A second British battalion was sent to Omsk in January 1919, along with a small naval detachment which fought the Reds on the Kama River, while Knox himself took over the training of Kolchak's officers in Vladivostok. But it was US support that really mattered, since the other Western powers would undoubtedly follow its lead. 'Everything depends on America,' Lvov wrote to Crane from Tokyo.4
On 15 November the Prince finally arrived in Washington. All his hopes for Russia were now focused on a meeting with the President. As the leader of the free world, Woodrow Wilson would surely recognize his moral obligation to promote the cause of freedom in Russia. This of course was a naive dream: with the ending of the world war, the Americans had no intention of sending more troops to Siberia. But, like many of the Russian liberals, Lvov idealized the land of the free. 'I am convinced', he wrote to Crane, 'that the World War is giving birth to a new world order led by the United States.' Lvov Was also convinced that President Wilson would share his liberal ideals: theirs would be a meeting of hearts as well as minds. On 21 November the two finally met. The meeting lasted only fifteen minutes. Wilson was friendly but not prepared to discuss the commitment of further troops. According to one of his aides, all he had to say when the meeting was over was: 'Did you notice what a wonderful beard the Prince has?'5
Had Lvov been a normal person, this disappointment would have been enough to shatter his optimism. After three months of travelling around the world, all his hopes had come to naught. But the Prince was not normal. He was as persevering as Pangloss himself, and travelled on to Paris in his moral quest. There Kolchak and Denikin placed him at the head of their delegation — formed from the Russian Political Conference* — to plead their case for Allied aid and diplomatic recognition at the Versailles Peace Conference in January. Recognition did not come: the Allies were determined to maintain the hypocrisy of neutrality in the Russian civil war. But thanks to the Prince and his delegation, they did send large amounts of aid to Kolchak. In the first six months of 1919 his White army received from them: one million rifles; 15,000 machine-guns; 700 field guns; 800 million rounds of ammunition; and clothing and equipment for half a million men. This was roughly equivalent to the Soviet production of munitions for the whole of 1919, and was certainly enough to launch a major campaign against the Reds. Thirty thousand Allied troops (Czechs, Americans, British, Italians and French) defended Kolchak's rear and maintained the 4,000-mile supply route along the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vladivostok to Omsk.6
Under their protection, Kolchak built up his forces in preparation for an early spring offensive against the Reds. Some people have suggested that he struck too early, before his armies were really ready, and that he should have waited for the summer, by which time Denikin might have joined him in a combined offensive on the Volga. But at the time there were decisive reasons for an early offensive. Some success was needed to ensure further Allied aid and recognition for the Kolchak regime. The Reds appeared on the brink of collapse. On Christmas Eve Kolchak's troops had captured the vital industrial city of Perm, routing the Third Red Army in the process. This opened up the possibility of pushing on towards Arkhangelsk, where the Allies had installed a White government under the Russian General K. E. Miller. The 'Perm Catastrophe' was obviously the outcome of a chronic breakdown in the Red rear. Soldiers had been hastily thrown into battle without proper training. Lacking enough food or winter clothing to withstand the arctic conditions, they surrendered en masse to the Whites. There they told them of the critical situation behind the Red Front. Military conscriptions and requisitionings had sparked a violent wave of peasant uprisings. The Red Terror had murdered thousands of innocent civilians in the cities of the Urals, turning virtually the whole population, including the workers, against the Bolsheviks. Relations were particularly strained with the Tatars and Bashkirs of the Volga-Ural region. The Reds were seen, in the words of one of their commissars, 'as a hostile army of occupation depriving the Muslims of their autonomy and trampling on their customs'.7
* The other delegates were V A. Maklakov (Kerensky's Ambassador in Paris), Sazonov (Kolchak's — and Nicholas II's — Foreign Minister) and the veteran Populist N. V Chaikovsky (head of the Northern Region government based in Arkhangelsk). The Russian Political Conference was a government in exile made up of former diplomats and other public men in Paris. Savinkov, Nabokov, Struve and Konovalov were among its members.
Kolchak's offensive pushed west on three Fronts. The main attacking force was the Western Army under General Khanzhin, which advanced towards Ufa at the start of March. It was made up from the remains of the Komuch's People's Army and supplemented by peasant conscripts. There were also 10,000 worker-volunteers from the munitions factories of Izhevsk and Votkinsk who had fled to Kolchak on the suppression of their uprising against the Bolsheviks in November. On their right flank was Gajda's Siberian Army, made up mainly of peasant conscripts, which attacked towards Viatka; and on their left the Orenburg and Siberian Cossacks, who fought alongside the Bashkir units under General Dutov. Their aim was to capture Orenburg and to link up with the Whites on the south-eastern steppe. This would cut off the Reds in Central Asia. The total front-line strength of Kolchak's forces was around 100,000 men.
By mid-April Kolchak's forces had advanced more than 200 miles and had captured an area larger than Britain. Their destination, the Volga River, was within a few days' march. Behind their own lines the Reds were meanwhile struggling to cope with the largest peasant uprising until that time — the so-called 'War of the Chapany' (named after the local peasant term for a tunic) which engulfed whole districts of Simbirsk and Samara under the slogan of 'Long live the Soviets! Down with the Communists!'8 The Whites talked confidently of the 'race to Moscow'. In Paris Lvov saw Kolchak's prestige soar among the Allies. Further huge credits were advanced to Omsk. It seemed that Western diplomatic recognition for the Whites was just around the corner.
But on 28 April the Reds launched a counter-offensive. It was led by Mikhail Frunze, who was later to become a Soviet hero but who at this time was still a relatively unknown Bolshevik. An ex-worker in his early thirties, Frunze's only real experience of war had been at the head of a Red brigade during the struggle for power in Moscow. Thousands of party members were mobilized and despatched to the Eastern Front. The newly organized Komsomol, the Communist Youth League, sent 3,000 of its members. The Soviets were also ordered to recruit ten to twenty conscripts from each volost. Due to the resistance of the peasants, only 13,000 recruits actually appeared — slightly more than two per volost — but it still helped to tip the balance against the Whites. The Reds were also joined by the majority of the Bashkir units which defected from Kolchak's side in May. By mid-June, Frunze's forces had pushed Kolchak's armies back to where they had started from, east of Ufa. After that the cities of the Urals fell to the Reds like dominoes as the Whites fell apart and retreated in panic. Orenburg, Ekaterinburg and the vital railhead at Chelia-binsk had all been lost by the middle of August. There was little to stop the Reds from marching on to Omsk. Kolchak now had fewer than 15,000 soldiers in the field, barely an eighth of his active forces at the height of his advance.9
There were a number of military reasons for the collapse of the Kolchak offensive. But behind all of them lay politics. It was a case of military overstretch, where the regime in the rear lacked the political means to sustain the army at the Front.
Take the problem of command. There were very few commanders of any calibre to be found in Kolchak's army. Only 5 per cent of the 17,000 officers had been trained before the war and most were young wartime ensigns. General Lebedev, the de facto head of the army, was only thirty-six. He had been a colonel in the tsarist General Staff. Like most of Kolchak's senior commanders, he was more expert in political intrigue than in the science of war. The army leaders, in the words of Baron Budberg, 'thought of themselves not just as a military but also as a political corps'. This, after all, was a military dictatorship. Political factions soon developed among the commanders' supporters, with the result that the army broke up into little more than a disunited collection of separate detachments, each pursuing its own little war. The more the army became politicized, the more its bureaucracy ballooned out of all proportion to the soldiers in the field. At the height of the offensive there were 2,000 officers in the staff at Omsk alone to administer 100,000 soldiers. Even in Semipalatinsk, 1,500 miles from the fighting, there was a staff of over 1,000. Instead of serving at the Front too many commanders sat around in offices and cafes in the rear.10
Then there was the problem of supplies. Kolchak's army, even more than Lenin's, suffered from shortages at the Front. It had to resort to feeding itself from the villages near the Front, which often meant violent requisitioning, leading to the alienation of the very population the Whites were supposed to be liberating. Part of the problem was Kolchak's short-sighted economic policies. He would not use the tsarist gold reserves to counteract runaway inflation. Peasants withdrew their foodstuffs from the market as the Omsk banknotes lost their value. Nothing was done to resurrect the chronic state of Siberia's industries: they were simply written off as a bastion of Bolshevik influence. Consumer goods and military supplies had to be brought in by rail from the Pacific, 4,000 miles away. Much of them were held up by bandits east of Lake Baikal, or by peasant partisans. Whole trainloads were also diverted by the railway workers, many of whom were sympathetic to the Reds and all of whom were badly paid. In Omsk itself valuable supplies were often squandered by corrupt officials. The venality of Kolchak's regime was notorious. The staff of Gajda's army was drawing rations for 275,000 men, when there were only 30,000 in his combat units. The Embassy cigarettes imported from England for the soldiers were smoked by civilians in Omsk. English army uniforms and nurses' outfits were worn by civilians, while many soldiers dressed in rags. Even Allied munitions were sold on the black market. Knox was dubbed the Quartermaster General of the Red Army: Trotsky even sent him a joke letter thanking him for his help in equipping the Red troops.11
The atmosphere of the Omsk regime was filled with moral decadence and seedy corruption. Cocaine and vodka were consumed in prodigious quantities. Cafes, casinos and brothels worked around the clock. Kolchak himself led by example, living with his mistress in luxury in Omsk while his poor wife and son were packed off to Paris. The Admiral had no talent for choosing subordinates and filled his ministries with third-rate hangers-on from the old regime. 'The company is awful,' he complained to his wife. 'I am surrounded by moral decay, cowardice, greed and treachery.' But Kolchak largely had himself to blame. If he had managed not to alienate the zemstvos, the one local source of administrative talent, things would not have been so bad. Budberg was appalled by the situation he found as Minister of War:
In the army, decay; in the Staff, ignorance and incompetence; in the Government, moral rot, divisions and the intrigues of ambitious egotists; in the country, uprising and anarchy; in public life, panic, selfishness, bribes and scoundrelism of every sort.
In such a climate little was achieved. The offices responsible for supply were full of corrupt and indolent bureaucrats, who took months to draw up meaningless statistics, legislative projects and official reports that were then filed away and forgotten. 'The whole regime', Budberg concluded, 'is only form without content; the ministries can be compared to huge and imposing windmills, busily turning their sails, but without millstones and most of their internal working parts broken or missing.'12
By far the biggest weakness of Kolchak's army was its failure to mobilize the local population. Its offensive came to a halt for want of adequate reinforcements, while far too many conscripts deserted. This was mainly a question of the peasants. True, the White advance was critically weakened by the desertion of the Bashkirs and the Cossacks on the southern flank, which allowed Frunze's army to break through. But the vast majority of the population in Western Siberia and the Volga-Kama region, where the offensive would be made or broken, were either Russian or Ukrainian peasants. On the face of it, there was no reason why the Siberian peasants should be hostile to the Whites. There was no real landownership by the gentry to the east of the Urals, so the major factor binding the peasants to the revolution in central Russia did not come into play here. Most of the older settlers were relatively wealthy mixed and dairy farmers, who, one would have thought, should have had a stake in the Whites' post helium status quo based on private property. Yet the peasants to the east of the Urals proved just as reluctant to join Kolchak's army as those to the west.
It was partly a question of image. Kolchak's regime, rightly or wrongly, was associated with a restoration of the tsarist system. This was communicated by the epaulettes of his officers; and by the tsarist and feudal methods employed by his local officials, who often whipped the peasants when they disobeyed their orders. This was bound to bring them into head-on conflict with the Siberian peasantry, whose ancestors had run away from serfdom in Russia and the Ukraine and whose love of freedom and independence was thus very strong. The whole ethos of the Kolchak regime was alien to the peasants — a feeling expressed in the peasant chastushka, or rhyming song:
English tunics, Russian epaulettes; Japanese tobacco, Omsk despots.
The closer the Whites moved towards central Russia the harder it became for them to mobilize the local peasantry. In the crucial Volga region, the furthest point of Kolchak's advance, the peasants had gained more of the gentry's land than anywhere else in Russia and so had most to fear from a counter-revolution. Here Kolchak dug his own grave by failing to sanction the peasant revolution on the land. Like Denikin's regime in the south, where the landowners were equally dominant, Kolchak's government was quite incapable of anything more than a carefully guarded bureaucratic response to what was the vital issue of the civil war. It was a classic example of the outdated methods of the Whites. Any future land law', Kolchak's land commission declared on 8 April, would 'have to be based on the rights of private property'. Only the 'unused land of the gentry' would be 'transferred to the toiling peasantry', which in the meantime could do no more than rent it from the government. As one critic put it, such a declaration was 'a marvellous propaganda tool for the Bolsheviks. All they have to do is to print it up and distribute it to the peasantry.'13
To mobilize the peasants Kolchak's army resorted increasingly to terror. There was no effective local administration to enforce the conscription in any other way, and in any case the Whites' world-view ruled out the need to persuade the peasants. It was taken for granted that it was the peasants place to serve in the White army, just as he had served in the ranks of the Tsar's, and that if he refused it was the army's right to punish him, even executing him if necessary as a warning to the others. Peasants were flogged and tortured, hostages were taken and shot, and whole villages were burned to the ground to force the conscripts into the army. Kolchak's cavalry would ride into towns on market day, round up the young men at gunpoint and take them off to the Front. Much of this terror was concealed from the Allies so as not to jeopardize their aid. But General Graves, the commander of the US troops, was well informed and was horrified by it. As he realized, the mass conscription of the peasantry 'was a long step towards the end of Kolchak's regime'. It soon destroyed the discipline and fighting morale of his army. Of every five peasants forcibly conscripted, four would desert: many of them ran off to the Reds, taking with them their supplies. Knox was livid when he first saw the Red troops on the Eastern Front: they were wearing British uniforms.14
From the start of its campaign, Kolchak's army was forced to deal with numerous peasant revolts in the rear, notably in Slavgorod, south-east of Omsk, and in Minusinsk on the Yenisei. The White requisitioning and mobilizations were their principal cause. Without its own structures of local government in the rural areas, Kolchak's regime could do very little, other than send in the Cossacks with their whips, to stop the peasants from reforming their Soviets to defend the local village revolution. By the height of the Kolchak offensive, whole areas of the Siberian rear were engulfed by peasant revolts. This partisan movement could not really be described as Bolshevik, as it was later by Soviet historians, although Bolshevik activists, usually in a united front with the Anarchists and Left SRs, often played a major role in it. It was rather a vast peasant war against the Omsk regime. Sometimes the local peasant chieftains were somewhat confused as to what they were fighting for. Shchetinkin, for example, a partisan leader in Minusinsk, issued this comic proclamation:
It is time to finish with the destroyers of Russia, Kolchak and Denikin, who are continuing the work of the traitor Kerensky . . . The Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich has arrived in Vladivostok and taken power over Russia. He has commanded me to raise the people against Kolchak. Lenin and Trotsky in Moscow have subordinated themselves to the Grand Duke and have been appointed as his ministers. I call on the Orthodox people to take up arms for the Tsar and Soviet Power.
Generally, however, the partisan movement expressed the ideas of the peasant revolution in hostile opposition to the towns. A good example of its ideology is to be found at the First Peasant Congress of Insurgents from the districts of Kansk, Krasnoyarsk and Achinsk which convened in April 1919. It proposed a whole 'constitution of peasant power', with a 'peasant government', communal taxes in accordance with norms set by Congress, and the 'distribution of the riches of the land among the toiling peasantry'. It even passed a 'peasant code' which set sentences of community service for those found guilty of drunken brawls, gambling, catching spawning fish and — an act evidently seen by the peasant delegates on a par with these — rape.15
The partisan movement was strongest in those regions — Tomsk and Yenisei provinces in central Siberia, the Altai and Semipalatinsk in the south, and the Amur valley in the east — where the most recent Russian immigrants were concentrated. These were generally the poorer peasants, many of whom had to supplement their income by working on the railways and down the mines. But the movement also spread to the richer farming regions as the repressions of the Omsk regime increased. Peasant deserters from Kolchak's army played a leading role in the partisan bands. They had that little extra knowledge of the outside world which can be enough in a peasant community to catapult a young man into power. The peasant bands fought by guerrilla methods, to which the wild and remote forest regions of the taiga were so well adapted. Sometimes they joined forces with the Red Army units which had been hiding out in the taiga since the Bolsheviks had been forced out of Siberia during the summer of 1918. The partisans' destruction of miles of track and their constant ambushes of trains virtually halted the transportation of vital supplies along the Trans-Siberian Railway to Kolchak's armies for much of the offensive. Thousands of his soldiers had to be withdrawn from the Front against the Reds to deal with the partisans. They waged a ruthless war of terror, shooting hundreds of hostages and setting fire to dozens of villages in the partisan strongholds of Kansk and Achinsk, where the wooded and hilly terrain was perfect for holding up trains. This partly succeeded in pushing the insurgents away from the railway. But since the terror was also unleashed on villages unconnected with the partisans, it merely fanned the flames of peasant war. As Kolchak's army retreated eastwards, it found itself increasingly surrounded by hostile peasant partisans. Mutinies began to spread as the Whites came under fire from all sides: even the Cossacks joined them. Whole units of Kolchak's peasant conscripts deserted as the retreat brought them closer to their native regions. By November 1919, Kolchak's army was falling apart. Once again the Whites had been defeated by the gulf between themselves and the peasantry.16
On 14 November Omsk was abandoned by Kolchak's forces as the Reds, who now outnumbered them by two to one, advanced eastwards. It was a classic case of White incompetence, with the leading generals caught in two minds as to whether to defend the town or evacuate it — and in the end doing neither properly. The Reds took the city without a fight, capturing vast stores of munitions that the Whites had not had time to destroy, along with 30,000 troops. Thousands of officers and their families, clerks and officials, merchants, cafe owners, bankers and prostitutes fled the White capital and headed east. The lucky ones travelled by train, the unlucky ones by horse or on foot. The bourgeoisie was on the run. The wounded and the sick — whose numbers were swollen by a typhus epidemic — had to be abandoned on the way. This was not just a military collapse; it was also a moral one. The retreating Cossacks carried with them huge supplies of vodka and, as all authority disappeared, indulged themselves in mass rape and pillage of the villages along their way. One of the characters in Doctor Zhivago, much of which was based on Pasternak's experiences in Siberia, summed up the atmosphere: 'Before there had been obligations of all kinds — sacred duties to the country, the army, and society. But now the war was lost, everything seemed to have been deposed, nothing was any longer sacred.'17
Kolchak headed towards his new intended capital in Irkutsk, 1,500 miles east of Omsk. The longest of his six trains, with twenty-nine cars, was taken up by the tsarist gold reserve, which had been captured from the Reds at Kazan and handed over to Kolchak. Three hundred miles from his destination, Kolchak's train was held up by the Czechs, and for most of December it remained stranded in the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile, in Irkutsk, the Political Centre, a coalition of the trade unions, the zemstvos and the left-wing parties took over the city and proclaimed itself the government of Siberia. Kolchak was declared an 'enemy of the people' and ordered to be brought to trial. On 4 January 1920 Kolchak resigned, transferred the command of his army to Semenov and travelled with the Czechs to Irkutsk, where he expected to be handed over to the Allied missions. But somehow he was betrayed and delivered to the Irkutsk Bolsheviks. From what we know, it seems most likely that he and his gold were handed over by the Czechs in exchange for a guaranteed passage to Vladivostok, where at last they could set sail for the United States on their journey round the world to return home. Neither the Political Centre nor the Allied missions did anything to save the Admiral. On 21 January a five-man commission (two Bolsheviks, two SRs and one Menshevik) interrogated him. There were plans to bring him back to Moscow and place him on public trial. But, as with the trial of Nicholas, these plans were aborted and, on 6 February, he was sentenced to execution. Perhaps the Reds feared Kolchak's capture by the remnants of his army, which were assembling just outside the city. Or perhaps the Bolsheviks simply preferred to have him dead.* Early the next morning Kolchak was shot. His body was buried beneath the ice of the Ushakovka River.
* There is an order from Lenin to Smirnov, Chairman of the Siberian MRC, instructing him to explain Kolchak's execution as a response to the threat of the Whites (RTsKhlDNI, f. 2, op. I, d. 24362). But the date of this order is unclear. Richard Pipes believes it was written before 7 February, thus suggesting a plot by Lenin to camouflage the reasons for the execution (Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime, 117—18). But there is no corroboration of this.
If Kolchak's final defeat had taken so long, it was largely because the Reds had been forced to divert a large proportion of their troops from Siberia to the Southern Front, where Denikin was threatening to break through during the summer of 1919.*
During March and April, at the height of the Kolchak offensive, Denikin's forces broke out from Rostov to occupy the crucial Donbass coal region and the south-east Ukraine. Some historians have seen this as a critical strategic mistake. Denikin's original plan had been to strike towards Tsaritsyn in order to link up with Kolchak's forces. But this plan was abandoned in late March, when the Reds, who were desperate for coal, invaded the Donbass and the northern Don. Faced with the choice between saving the Don or linking up with Kolchak on the Volga, Denikin opted for the former. He had always given top priority to the defence of his Cossack strongholds. That had been the reasoning behind his preference the previous summer to launch a Second Kuban Campaign rather than attack towards Tsaritsyn; and now those same priorities came into play. Denikin's decision was bitterly opposed by several leading generals, notably Baron Wrangel, the lofty six-foot-six leader of the Caucasian Army, who constantly intrigued against Denikin. Wrangel denounced the decision not to advance towards Tsaritsyn as a 'betrayal of Kolchak's troops', allowing the Reds 'to defeat us one by one'. Given that Kolchak's troops in March were barely 200 miles from Tsaritsyn, perhaps Denikin was wrong not to run the risk of losing the Don to link up with them. The Reds were certain that they would be defeated if the two White armies combined. However, it must be said in Denikin's defence that he was responding to what can only be called a war of genocide against the Cossacks. The Bolsheviks had made it clear that their aim in the northern Don was to unleash 'mass terror against the rich Cossacks by exterminating them to the last man' and transferring their land to the Russian peasants. During this campaign of 'decossackization', in the early months of 1919, some 12,000 Cossacks, many of them old men, were executed as 'counterrevolutionaries' by the tribunals of the invading Red Army.18
* This was the first major strategic disagreement among the Bolshevik leadership. Trotsky and Vatsetis, his Commander-in-Chief, argued against pursuing Kolchak beyond the Urals so that troops could be withdrawn to the Southern Front. But Kamenev, the Eastern Front Commander, backed up by Lenin and Stalin, insisted on the need to pursue Kolchak to the end. The conflict went on through the summer, weakening the Red Army leadership at this critical moment of the civil war. It showed, above all, that Trotsky's authority was in decline. His strategy, both on the Eastern and the Southern Fronts, was rejected in favour of Kamenev's, who replaced Vatsetis on 3 July. Trotsky was furious, suspecting that Stalin and the Military Opposition were trying to oust him from the leadership. He wrote a letter of resignation, which was rejected by the Central Committee on 5 July. Trotsky's authority was further weakened by the reconstitution of the RVSR with four new members (Kamenev, Gusev, Smilga and Rykov) who all had differences with its Chairman.
It was the spontaneous Cossack uprising against this terror which enabled Denikin to break through. Thousands of Cossacks joined his troops as they advanced northwards in the spring. The main White force in the Donbass was led by General Mai-Maevsky. A chubby pear-shaped man with small piggy eyes and a pince-nez, he was the most unlikely military hero. 'If he had not worn a uniform,' Baron Wrangel wrote, 'you would have taken him for a comedian from a little provincial theatre.' Mai-Maevsky was notorious for his drunken orgies: by the end of the civil war there were few brothels in southern Russia where he was not known. Yet he was also one of the Whites' most able generals — a brilliant tactician, physically courageous and idolized by his 12,000 'coloured troops' (so-called because of their multi-coloured caps). Under his command the Volunteer Army advanced from the Donbass into the south-east Ukraine, easily defeating Makhno's Red partisans on the way. Kharkov was captured on 13 June, Ekaterinoslav on the 22nd, as the Red peasant conscripts ran away at the first sight of these crack White forces. Meanwhile, in one of the most remarkable campaigns of the civil war, Wrangel's Caucasian Army marched for forty days across the sun-baked south-eastern steppe — and at the end of it captured Tsaritsyn against superior forces on 19 June. The Red defenders of the Volga city fled in panic as soon as they saw Wrangel's British tanks approach. Forty thousand Reds were captured by the Whites along with a huge store of munitions.19
Denikin's breakthrough had been facilitated by a number of factors. The Whites had the advantage of superior cavalry and supplies, thanks in large part to the Allies. Despite his own physical immobility, the rotund Mai-Maevsky was a master improviser of the war of movement. He used his British aeroplanes for reconnaissance of enemy terrain and despatched his cavalry by railway to those points where they could inflict the most damage. One unit could fight at three different places in a single day. The Reds, meanwhile, were clearly overstretched by the climax of the fighting on the two main Fronts — the Southern and the Eastern. They were also suffering from a crisis in supplies. According to Trotsky, this was the main reason for the collapse of the Southern Front. 'Nowhere do the soldiers suffer so much from hunger as in the Ukraine,' he told the Central Committee on 11 August. 'Between a third and a half of the men are without boots or undergarments and go about in rags. Everyone in the Ukraine except our soldiers has a rifle and ammunition.' The supply crisis led to indiscipline and mass desertion. In the seven months of Denikin's advance, from March to October 1919, the Reds registered more than one million deserters on the Southern Front. The rear was engulfed in peasant uprisings, as the Reds resorted to the violent requisitioning of horses and supplies, forcible conscription of reinforcements and repressions against villages suspected of hiding deserters.20
The south-eastern Ukraine, where Makhno's partisans were in control, became a major region of peasant revolt just at the height of the Denikin offensive. Nestor Makhno was the Pancho Villa of the Russian Revolution. He was born in 1889 in Hulyai Pole, the centre of his peasant insurrection. During 1905 he had joined the Anarchists and, after seven years in the Butyrka jail, returned to Hulyai Pole in 1917, where he formed the Peasant Union — later reformed as the Soviet — and organized a brigade, which carried out the seizure of the local gentry's estates. During the civil war Makhno's partisans fought almost everyone: the Rada forces; Kaledin's Cossacks; the Germans and the Hetmanates; Petliura's Ukrainian Nationalists; the rival bands of Grigoriev and countless other warlords; the Whites; and the Reds. The strength of his guerrilla army lay in the quality and the speed of its cavalry, in the support it received from the peasantry, in its intimate knowledge of the local terrain and in the fierce loyalty of its men. Makhno's alleged exploits, which included drinking bouts of superhuman length, gave him a legendary status among the local peasants (they called him 'Batko', meaning 'father'). It was not unlike the myth of Stenka Razin as a peasant champion of truth and justice who was blessed with supernatural powers. Under the black flag of the Anarchists, Makhno stood for a stateless peasant revolution based on the local self-rule of the free and autonomous Soviets that had emerged in the countryside during 1917. When the Whites advanced into the Ukraine Makhno put his 15,000 men at the disposal of the Reds. In exchange for arms from Moscow, his troops became part of the Third Division under Dybenko, although they retained their own internal partisan organization. Trotsky made a point of blaming their lack of discipline for the Red defeats.* In June he ordered the arrest of Makhno as a 'counter-revolutionary' — his anarchist conception of a local peasant revolution was inimical to the Proletarian Dictatorship — and had several of his followers shot. Makhno's partisans fled to the forests and turned their guns against the Reds. Most of the peasants in the south-east Ukraine supported his revolt.
From Tsaritsyn, on 3 July, Denikin issued his Moscow Directive. The three main White forces were to converge on the capital in a gigantic pincer movement along the main railways, thus cutting off its main lines of supply. Wrangel's Caucasian Army was to march up the Volga from Tsaritsyn to Saratov, and turn in from there to Penza, Nizhnyi Novgorod and on to Moscow; General Sidorin and the Don Army were to advance north via Voronezh; while Mai-Maevsky's Volunteer Army was to march from Kharkov via Kursk, Orel and Tula. It was an all-or-nothing gamble, counting on the speed of the White cavalry to exploit the temporary weakness of the Reds. Wrangel bitterly opposed the Directive. He called it the 'death sentence' of the White Army. In his view it ran the risk of advancing too far and broadly without adequate protection in the rear in the form of trained reserves, sound administration and lines of supply to maintain the offensive. Wrangel preferred to concentrate the troops and advance more slowly in one sector — namely his own on the Volga. But when he put this to Denikin, the latter exclaimed: 'I see you want to be the first man to set foot in Moscow!'21
* It is true that Makhno's partisans often broke down under pressure from the Whites. But given how poorly they were supplied by the Reds, this was hardly surprising. They certainly did not deserve the vilification they received from Trotsky. This in fact had less to do with Makhno than it did with Stalin. By laying the blame for the Red defeats on the guerrilla methods of Makhno's partisans, Trotsky could attack the 'guerrilla-ism' of the Military Opposition and thus reinforce his argument for military discipline and centralization.
With hindsight it is clear that the Directive was a disastrous mistake: it cost the Whites the civil war. Denikin himself later admitted that the Front became much too broad, mainly because the cavalry commanders, whom he could not control, took it upon themselves to expand the territory under their occupation. It was a case of too many generals and not enough authority. As the Front grew, so too did the need for fresh troops and supplies. Yet the frontline units were by this stage several hundred miles from their bases in the rear. They resorted to violent requisitioning and conscription from the local population, thereby alienating the very people they were supposed to liberate. Denikin had always said that the advance on Moscow would depend on a 'national uprising of the people against the Soviet regime'; but the effect of his armies' actions was to rally them behind it.22
The offensive started well enough. On 31 July Denikin's forces captured Poltava, followed by Odessa and Kiev in August, as Soviet power in the Ukraine crumbled. Meanwhile, in August, Mamontov's Cossacks, 8,000 strong, broke deep into the Red rear towards Tambov, blowing up munition stores and railway lines and dispersing newly drafted Red recruits. Tambov and Voronezh were both briefly occupied and looted as part of Mamontov's plan to disrupt the rear. During September Mai-Maevsky's advance continued into central Russia. Kursk was taken on the 20th and Voronezh, once again, ten days later. On 14 October the Whites took Orel. Only 250 miles from Moscow, this was the closest they would come to victory. The Bolsheviks were thrown into panic. Precisely at this moment, just as Denikin was threatening to capture Moscow from the south, another White army under General Yudenich was being amassed on the outskirts of Petrograd. For once the Whites had managed to co-ordinate the attacks of their two main armies, and for a few crucial days in mid-October it seemed that this would be enough to defeat the Reds.
Bunkered in the Kremlin, Lenin received hourly telephone reports from his commanders at the two Fronts. Desperate measures were put into action for a last-ditch defence of Moscow: 120,000 workers and peasants were forcibly conscripted into labour teams to dig trenches on the southern approach roads. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks prepared for the worst. Many of them tore up their party tickets and tried to ingratiate themselves with the Moscow bourgeoisie in the hope of saving themselves when the Whites arrived. Others got ready to go underground. Secret plans were laid for the evacuation of the government to the Urals. Some of the senior party leaders even prepared to flee abroad. Elena Stasova, the Party Secretary, was ordered to procure a false passport and a wad of tsarist banknotes for each member of the Central Committee.23
But the signs that the Whites had overstretched themselves soon became apparent. While their armies had more than doubled in size since the spring, they still lacked enough troops to sustain their advance towards Moscow. Deni-kin's 150,000 soldiers were very thinly spread along the thousand miles of the Southern Front, making them vulnerable to a counter-offensive. In the rear the Whites had left themselves without enough troops to defend their bases against Makhno's partisans, the Ukrainian nationalists and the Chechens in the Caucasus, and at the height of the Moscow offensive they were forced to withdraw vital troops to deal with them. They were also hampered in part by the lack of reinforcements. The Kuban Cossacks, whom Wrangel was counting on to reinforce his campaign against Saratov on the Volga, refused to leave their homelands. It was the old problem of Cossack localism: without guarantees of autonomy for the Kuban — which the Whites were not prepared to give — they would not take part in the fighting in Russia. But the real problem for the Whites — and the single biggest reason why their offensive ran out of steam — was their inability to mobilize enough troops within the newly occupied regions of the Ukraine and Russia. And here the Whites were defeated by their own political failures.
In the Ukraine the Whites were crippled from the start by their Great Russian chauvinism. This guaranteed the opposition of the richer peasants, much of the rural intelligentsia and the petty-bourgeoisie, all of whom were sympathetic to the Ukrainian nationalist cause. Of all the contenders for power in the Ukraine — the Greens, the Blacks, the Reds and the Whites — Denikin was the only one who made no concessions to the nationalists. This was not a mistaken calculation: the need to defend the Great Russian Empire was the essential belief of the White regime. Even if they had been told that without such concessions they could not succeed, the Whites would still have refused to make them. Dragomirov, Lukomsky and Shulgin, the three Kievan Russians who dominated the White movement in the south, were more Russian than the Russians in Russia. Denikin satisfied their nationalist demands. He appointed Russians to all official posts; suppressed the agrarian co-operatives, strongholds of the nationalist movement; and forbade the use of the Ukrainian language in all state institutions including schools. He even denied the existence of a Ukraine — which he called 'Little Russia' in all his pronouncements. His clumsy 'Proclamation to the Little Russian People', in which he pledged to reunite Russia with its 'little Russian branch', merely helped to drive the Ukrainian peasants into Petliura's nationalist army, which did so much to weaken the White rear. During the decisive battles of the autumn the Whites were forced to withdraw 10,000 troops from the Front against the Reds to fight Petliura's and other nationalist bands.
An even more crucial weakness was the failure of the Whites to build up an effective system of local administration in the newly conquered territories. It meant they lacked the means to mobilize the peasantry and its resources without the use of terror. This became critical as they advanced into Soviet Russia and were cut off from their bases of supply. At the height of the offensive it became very difficult to get food and equipment to the soldiers. Makhno had occupied the key supply bases in the rear — Mariupol, Melitopol and Berdi-ansk — and, along with Petliura's nationalists, was holding up the military trains from the south. Then there was the problem of the railway workers, who by and large were against the Whites and could often only be made to work for them at the point of a gun. Within the Whites' own industrial bases there were similar tensions with the workers, as Denikin rolled back the rights of the trade unions and returned plants to their former owners. Coal production in the Donbass fell dramatically, bringing much of industry and transport to a halt. The Whites responded with a reign of terror, shooting workers in reprisal for the 'Bolshevik' decline in production. In Yuzovka one in ten workers was routinely shot whenever mines and factories failed to meet the output targets for coal and iron. Some workers were shot for simply being workers under the slogan 'Death to Callused Hands!' It was a sort of class revenge for the Red Terror with its own slogan 'Death to the Burzhoois!' But even such repression was unable to reverse the decline in production. The White economy was thrown into chaos as factories closed down, inflation spiralled and workers went on strike. Vital supplies for the army were either not produced or not transported to the Front.24
Meanwhile, in August, Allied shipments of aid were reduced as the Western powers, chastened by Kolchak's retreat, became sceptical of a White victory. Much of the aid had been lost through corruption: weapons, uniforms, linen, blankets, even hospital equipment, would somehow find their way on to the black market. During the fighting at Kharkov several soldiers from Denikin's tank corps were caught selling their radiator anti-freeze as vodka in the Hotel Metropole. Henceforth, the Allies resolved, military aid should be given in the form of 'non-marketable' goods (although in Russia there were no such things) and should be paid for by Denikin in cash or exported goods. This was a death blow to the White campaign. The front-line soldiers were left without supplies, notably warm kit for the coming winter. Without an effective system of local administration to organize this, the soldiers soon broke down into chaotic looting. As Denikin himself acknowledged, more than anything else this alienated the local population and guaranteed a White defeat.25
The worst looting was carried out by the Cossack cavalry. They held the Russian peasants in contempt and viewed it as their right to plunder them at will, as if invaders of a foreign country. Their commanders were a law unto themselves and, on the whole, allowed the looting as a means of winning the Cossacks' loyalty. It was precisely the same combination that produced the atrocious pogroms against the Jews (of which more on pages 676—9). Mamontov and Shkuro were only the most notorious examples, urging on their soldiers with the promise of loot. But there were dozens of junior commanders who made themselves into 'Cossack heroes' in this way: one of them was called the Prince of Thieves. Denikin disapproved of these adventurers but he lacked the firmness to bring them to book — a fact he would later bitterly regret. Some of the Cossack units were so weighed down with booty that they were quite unable to fight. Their cavalry was followed by long tails of wagons — some stretching up to thirty miles — laden down with stolen property. Trains were filled with looted goods and diverted to the rear instead of being used to transport equipment to the Front. Mamontov's Cossacks, having rejoined the Whites after their August raid on Tambov, were so concerned to get back with their spoils to the Don that all but 1,500 out of 8,000 deserted. Wrangel claimed that by the autumn the Whites had only 3,000—4,000 committed fighters left at the Front: 'all the rest were a colossal tail of looters and speculators .. . The war for them was a means of getting rich.' With such an army, he concluded, it was 'impossible to win over Russia. The population has come to hate us.'26
* * * With Denikin's capture of Orel, the crucial arsenal of Tula, 100 miles away, was imminently threatened. Its loss, claimed Trotsky, 'would have been more dangerous than that of Moscow'.27 Without Moscow the Reds would have lacked a prestigious capital; but without Tula they would have lacked an army. The entire fate of the Soviet regime hinged on the defence of Tula — and at the centre of that defence stood Dmitry Os'kin. As the Military Commissar of Tula, Os'kin was placed at the head of the two key bodies — the Military Council and the Revolutionary Committee (Revkom) — which between them ruled the so-called 'Tula Fortified Region' by martial law.
Os'kin had no doubts about the need for martial law. He had long ago left behind his Left SR libertarianism and accepted the need for ruthless discipline in a civil war. The necessity was underlined by the fact that the Tula workers were threatening to strike in protest against shortages of food. There had been a general strike in Tula in the spring. Os'kin and his comrades had been denounced by hungry workers at every factory meeting: 'Down with the Commissars!' became the slogan of the strike. To suppress the strike the Bolsheviks had waged civil war against the workers. Dzerzhinsky himself had been sent by Lenin on 3 April. Special Communist detachments had occupied the factories and up to 1,000 workers had been arrested. Since then relations with the workers had been less embattled — Os'kin had made sure that better food supplies were brought in — but this was now threatened by a renewed strike as food stocks once again became depleted. Given the vital need to keep munitions production going, there was no choice m Os'kin's view but 'to militarize the factories and repress the workers if they went on strike'. None of the Bolsheviks had any illusions about the possibility of negotiating a settlement with the workers: there was not enough time. And, in any case, as Lenin admitted to the Politburo on 15 October, 'the masses in Tula are a very long way from being with us'. In fact, if anything, they were with the Mensheviks, who had led the general strike in the previous spring and who, before that, had held majorities in the city Soviets. Some of the Mensheviks now chose to agitate for the Reds in Tula in order to repel Denikin. It was a measure of the Bolsheviks' desperation, and of the low esteem in which the workers held them, that they had to rely on their deadliest rivals to come to their aid. Os'kin and his comrades were reluctant to do so, fearful as they had been of any other party since the general strike, but Lenin intervened to open up the factory doors to the Mensheviks. Dan told the Tula workers that the victory of the Whites would mean the defeat of the revolution; but the hungry workers seemed only bored by this. The Mensheviks were forced to conclude that the workers were 'extremely hostile to the Communists and no appeal to defend the revolution against Denikin could pacify their mood'.28
The need for urgent results also lay behind Os'kin's extraordinary measures for Tula's military defence. Thousands of peasants and 'bourgeois' citizens were forcibly conscripted into labour teams. They worked day and night felling timber to fuel the factories and digging trenches around the city. Hundreds of their relatives were held as 'hostages' — to be shot if the work was not done properly. Os'kin had no qualms about using such measures: they were 'necessary for the defence of the revolution'. Thousands of Red Army reinforcements were despatched to Tula, including the famous Latvian Rifle Division, stalwart supporters of the Bolshevik regime. Os'kin organized the conscription of 20,000 local troops in addition to this. 'The whole of Tula', as he put it, 'was turned into one huge barracks.' Soldiers were billeted in every spare building. The town squares and parks were taken over by tanks and units of soldiers going through their drill. Machine-gun posts were mounted on the tallest buildings along the major roads and mined barricades were erected at the entrance to the town. Throughout the southern districts of the province there were look-out posts, linked by telephone with Tula, to warn of the approach of Denikin's troops.
The gentry's abandoned manors were turned into barracks. One regiment made its home on Tolstoy's former estate at Yasnaya Polyana; while another camped nearby on Prince Lvov's at Popovka.29
At this crucial moment, with the outcome of the struggle very finely balanced, hundreds of thousands of peasant deserters were returning to the Red Army. This return was a decisive factor, tipping the balance in favour of the Reds, and it says a great deal about why the Bolsheviks won the civil war. Right-wing accounts of the civil war have tended to present the victory of the Reds as something that was achieved without mass support. The Bolsheviks, so the argument goes, simply had a larger territorial base upon which to draw. They were more systematic than the Whites in their use of terror and coercion to extract the necessary military resources from a civilian population which was essentially hostile to both sides and indifferent to the outcome of their struggle. This is two-thirds right. But the fact that the Bolsheviks could at least claim to stand for 'the revolution' — and they had captured its most important symbols such as the Red Flag — also surely enabled them to mobilize a certain level of support, albeit only a conditional support and as the less bad of two options, from the peasantry, and indeed as we shall see from certain workers too, who feared that a victory of the Whites would reverse their own gains from the revolution.
This is clearly shown by the story of the return of the peasant deserters to the Red Army. Until June, the Reds' campaign against desertion had relied on violent repressive measures against the villages suspected of harbouring them. This had been largely counter-productive, resulting in a wave of peasant revolts behind the Red Front which had facilitated the White advance. But in June the Bolsheviks switched to the more conciliatory tactic of 'amnesty weeks'. During these weeks, which were much propagandized and often extended indefinitely, the deserters were invited to return to the ranks without punishment. In a sense, it was a sign of the Bolshevik belief in the need to reform the nature of the peasant and to make him conscious of his revolutionary duty — thus the Reds punished 'malicious' deserters but tried to reform the 'weak-willed' ones — as opposed to the practice of the Whites of executing all deserters equally. Between July and September, as the threat of a White victory grew, nearly a quarter of a million deserters returned to the Red Army from the two military districts of Orel and Moscow alone. Many of them called themselves 'volunteers', and said they were ready to fight against the Whites, whom they associated with the restoration of the gentry on the land. These were regions where the local peasantry had made substantial land gains in 1917. In Orel the amount of land in peasant use had increased by 28 per cent; while in the Moscow military district the increase was as much as 35 per cent. The threat of a White victory made the peasants fear for the loss of their new land — a fear that the Reds encouraged through their propaganda — and they were prepared to send their sons back to the army to defend this land. However much the peasants might have disliked the Bolshevik regime, with its violent requisitionings and bossy commissars, they would continue to defend it as long — and only as long — as it stood between the Whites and their own revolution on the land.30
By October, the Reds had nearly 200,000 troops ready for battle on the Southern Front. This gave them twice as many forces as the Whites. In preparation for a counter-offensive against the Whites, Alexander Egorov was given command of the Southern Front on II October. His career pattern was very similar to Os'kin's and indeed typical of the new Red military elite. He had risen to the rank of colonel during the First World War, had joined the Left SRs in 1917, and had defected to the Bolsheviks during the summer of 1918. Egorov was the principal architect of the Red Army victory in the south — although in fact there was very little planning, since the strategy had been changed at the final moment and was largely improvised as it went along.* Os'kin found nothing but panic and chaos at the headquarters of the Southern Front. Nobody even knew for sure 'where our troops were located'.31
Despite this confusion, which was characteristic of the whole of the civil war, these large-scale battles of October were very different from the sort of fighting that had typified the earlier stages of the civil war. The battles of 1918 had really been no more than small-scale skirmishes and artillery duels. The small and motley forces had been mostly concerned with self-preservation, there had been no fixed positions or Fronts, and towns and territories had frequently changed hands. It had been like a minor nineteenth-century war. But the battles of October were much heavier and resembled more the fighting of the First World War. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were involved, millions of cartridges were fired every day, there were tanks and aeroplanes, and armoured cars, and the battles went on through the night. With better command structures in both armies, and their officers under stricter orders not to retreat, thousands of soldiers' lives were expended over insignificant bits of land. Neither side took prisoners.
The Red counter-offensive on the Southern Front had two key strategic elements. The first was a surprise attack by the Striking Group of Latvian Rifles, some 12,000 crack troops situated to the west of Orel, on the left flank of the Volunteer Army as it pushed north towards Tula. After a fierce and bloody battle, in which nearly half the Latvians were slaughtered, the Whites were pushed back beyond Orel. At this point the second key element of the counter-offensive was deployed. On 19 October the Red Cavalry suddenly attacked the Cossacks on the left flank of the Whites, eventually chasing them back towards Voronezh. The Cossacks must have been astonished by the Red horsemen, since they had hardly ever been deployed before. Trotsky had always underestimated the strategic advantages of the cavalry in a war of movement like the civil war. It was only the Mamontov Raid that had taught him the slogan 'Proletarians to Horse!'32
* The original Red strategy, set in July, had been to attack from the Volga to the Don; but this was changed on 15 October, the day after Orel fell, when the Politburo resolved to concentrate all the Red forces around Tula. Kamenev, the Commander-in-Chief, was not even consulted on the change.
To build up their cavalry the Reds had turned in 1918 to Semen Budenny. This tall and imposing cavalry officer, complete with a handlebar moustache, was the son of a non-Cossack peasant from the Don region. He had been drafted into the tsarist army in 1903, and after the war against Japan, when his horsemanship had first been spotted, had been enrolled in the Imperial Cavalry Riding School in St Petersburg. By 1914, Budenny had risen to become a sergeant-major in the elite Imperial Dragoons. He was one of the many NCOs to join the Bolsheviks in 1917; and like many of them soon fell in with Stalin and the Military Opposition. In 1918 Voroshilov placed him at the head of a small cavalry force fighting against Krasnov's Cossacks near Tsaritsyn. This First Red Cavalry Corps was largely made up of poor Cossacks and non-Cossack peasants from the northern Don. It was reinforced from these same elements in preparation for the counter-offensive against Denikin. This was the nucleus of Budenny's celebrated Cavalry Army, the one immortalized through Babel's stories, which recounted its adventures in the war against Poland during 1920. Many of Stalin's most honoured commanders, if not the most talented, won their spurs in the 'Konarmiia'. Apart from Marshal Budenny, who was buried in Red Square in 1970, there were Marshal Timoshenko (who led the Red Army into the Second World War) and Marshal Zhukov (who led it to victory in 1945).
Pursued by the Red Cavalry, the White Cossacks fled south to the Don, abandoning Voronezh to the Bolsheviks on 24 October. From this strategic city, Budenny's horsemen advanced towards Kastornoe, a crucial railway junction between Moscow and the Don. They finally captured it on 15 November after several days of bloody fighting against Shkuro's Cossacks. This effectively sealed the fate of Denikin's offensive. The Whites were now threatened with the prospect of complete encirclement by the Reds, and they were forced to beat a hasty retreat south. Never again did they threaten to break through into central Russia.
* * * October was a double opportunity missed by the Whites. At the height of the fighting at Orel a second major White force, the North-Western Army, advanced to the outskirts of Petrograd.
Given its shortcomings, it is amazing that the North-Western Army ever got so far. It had been formed in Pskov with the help of the German army during 1918. After the defeat of Germany, as the Red Army had advanced westwards, it had retreated into Estonia, then a newly independent state in the grips of its own civil war. There it had been able to build up its forces behind the natural barrier of Lake Peipus. By May 1919, when it re-entered Russia and launched its attack on Petrograd, the army had some 16,000 men, most of them Russian prisoners of war handed over by the Germans and deserters from the Reds.
The army was led by General Yudenich, a small-time hero of the First World War whom Kolchak had recognized as his commander in the Baltic. Aged fifty-seven and weighing eighteen stone, Nikolai Yudenich was both too old and fat to inspire anyone as a leader. With his flabby cheeks, his bald head and his twirling moustache, he looked every bit the unreconstructed Russian aristocrat that he was. Yudenich had never really reconciled himself to the downfall of the Tsarist Empire — and this was to be the cause of his own downfall.
Like all the White generals, Yudenich's instinct was to bury politics in the interests of his military campaign. Against the Bolsheviks without Politics' was his slogan. The North-Western Government was a piece of democratic window-dressing to appease the Allies. It had no real intention of governing Russia. Yudenich dismissed the need for a reform programme, and did not count on a popular uprising to pave his army's way to Petrograd: this was to be a military conquest not a winning of the people's hearts and minds. In fact quite the contrary occurred. As soon as his army entered Soviet soil, it met the opposition of the population and its mainly Russian conscripts began to desert. This lack of support within Russia meant that Yudenich was obliged to call on foreign troops. The Allies were luke-warm towards his mission — they were looking to withdraw from the civil war — and only sent him minimal supplies. True, British warships blockaded Petrograd and even attacked Kronstadt; but no Allied land troops were sent to Yudenich. Even if they had been willing to support the Whites in an offensive against Petrograd, Yudenich's connections with the Germans would have been enough to prevent the Allies from supporting him.
Without the support of the Allies the success of Yudenich's offensive against Petrograd would rest on the willingness of Finland to act as a springboard and supply base for his army. The Finnish border was only twenty miles from Petrograd — nearly ten times shorter than the march through Russia via Pskov. Yet even here — with the prize of Petrograd so close to their grasp — the White generals allowed their obstinate commitment to the Russian Empire to get in the way of an accord with the Finns.
The Finnish Defence Corps under General Mannerheim had grown into a major national army since its defeat of the Reds at Helsingfors during the spring of 1918. It was the Finns rather than the Whites whom the Bolsheviks feared most in Petrograd. By June 1919, it was reckoned that there were up to 100,000 Finnish troops around Lake Lagoda. One quarter of them were facing Petrograd. The price of Finland's support for Yudenich was simple: a guarantee of its independence. This should have been a formality: Finland was already, to all intents and purposes, an independent state and was recognized as such by most of the Western powers. Yet the Whites thought that even this small price was still too much to pay. Their simple-minded nostalgia for the Russian Empire, which they were committed to restore, prevented them from making deals with nationalists. 'History will never forgive me if I surrender what Peter the Great won,' Kolchak had declared with typical bombast when urged, as the supreme leader of the Whites, to yield to the Finnish demand. Prince Lvov and the Political Conference in Paris were adamantly opposed to the idea of granting Finland recognition until its status had been finally resolved by the Constituent Assembly in Russia. This was also typical of the Whites' fixation with the legal framework of the past — a fixation which prevented them from engaging with the political realities of the present. Mannerheim was well disposed to the anti-Bolshevik cause. But not even he could persuade the war-weary Finns to support the Whites without a guarantee of recognition. The Reds, on the other hand, had granted Finland recognition eighteen months before. They were now offering a peace accord with the Finns if they remained neutral in the civil war, while threatening them with 'merciless extermination if they joined the Whites. The Allies urged Yudenich to recognize Finland, realizing that without its support his offensive was doomed to fail. But the White general refused to budge. This gave Mannerheim, facing an election in July, no choice but to wash his hands of the Whites. He refused to give Yudenich troops or to let his army operate from Finnish soil. It was a crucial setback for the Whites, forcing them to advance on Petrograd by the longer and more hostile route through Yamburg and Gatchina.
Yudenich made a last desperate effort to enlist the support of the Estonians. But they were a small nation, and a young and fragile one, and they were unwilling to give the Whites many troops, especially when the latter would not even recognize Estonian independence in return. The Reds were quick to exploit the situation — just as they had been in the Finnish case — offering Estonia a peace accord if it remained neutral in the civil war. The natural inclination of the Estonians to avoid involvement in the civil war thus coincided with their best interests as an independent state forced to live next door to the Soviets.
Left to his own devices, Yudenich ordered a dash for Petrograd on 10 October. He was banking on the Reds being caught short by the fighting on the Southern Front. To begin with, the gamble paid off. The Bolsheviks had indeed transferred units to the south. The 25,000 troops of the Seventh Red Army, left to defend Petrograd, were utterly demoralized and beginning to desert. Aided by Colonel Liundkvist, the Chief of Staff of the Seventh Army who defected to the Whites and supplied them with details of the Red positions, Yudenich's 18,000 troops advanced rapidly. By the 20th they had reached the Pulkovo Heights, overlooking the Petrograd suburbs. 'There was the dome of St Isaac's and the gilt spire of the Admiralty,' one his officers recalled, 'one could even see trains pulling out of the Nikolai Station.' So confident were they of victory on that day that one of their generals even refused the offer of field-glasses to survey the city because, as he put it, they would in any case be walking down the Nevsky Prospekt the next day.33
News of the White advance created panic among the Reds. Lenin wanted to abandon Petrograd and concentrate on the Southern Front. But Trotsky was adamant that the birth-place of the revolution should be defended at all costs, even if that meant fighting in the streets, and he persuaded Lenin to change his mind. On 16 October Trotsky was despatched to the old capital to take charge of its defence. Zinoviev, the Petrograd party boss, had completely lost his nerve and could do nothing but lie down on a sofa in the Smolny. This was one of the few occasions in the civil war — much fewer than claimed by his acolytes — when Trotsky's presence at the Front helped to decide the outcome of the battle. At one point he even mounted a horse, rounded up the retreating troops and led them back into battle.
Trotsky's first task was to boost morale — and this he did with his brilliant talent for mass oratory. He urged the soldiers not to give up and made fun of the enemy's British tanks, from which the Reds had run away, describing them as nothing more than boxes 'made of painted wood'. He even ordered the Putilov plant to knock up a few vehicles resembling tanks to give the troops reassurance that they too had these machines on their side. Trotsky's next task was to transform Petrograd into a fortress and prepare its population for a battle in the streets. Martial law was declared in the city and a night-time curfew was imposed. Thousands of workers and bourgeois residents were mobilized to erect barricades on the streets and squares. Lenin urged Trotsky to raise 30,000 people, to 'set up machine-guns behind them and to shoot several hundred of them in order to assure a real mass assault on Yudenich'. The city's sewage system was pulled up and used to build the barricades. Trenches were dug in the southern suburbs and machine-guns were posted on top of all the buildings along the main roads into the centre. Military trucks and motorcycles hurtled around Petrograd by day and night; Bolsheviks in leather jackets stood around at road blocks with guns around their shoulders; and all the major buildings were guarded by teams of worker volunteers.34
Although Petrograd, like every other city, had been troubled by frequent strikes, the threat of a White breakthrough seemed to galvanize many workers into defending the Soviet regime. As one of the Whites' spies in Petrograd put it:
The worker elements, at least a large section of them, are still Bolshevik inclined. Like some other democratic elements, they see the regime, although bad, as their own. Propaganda about the cruelty of the Whites has a strong effect on them . . . Psychologically, they identify the present with equality and Soviet power and the Whites with the old regime and its scorn for the masses.
Hundreds of workers armed themselves with rifles and turned out to defend the Smolny. Meanwhile, in the courtyard of the Soviet headquarters, a dozen motorcars were kept ready to whisk away the party leaders should Petrograd fall. Viktor Serge and his pregnant wife abandoned their room in the Astoria Hotel and spent the night in an ambulance parked in the suburbs. With a little case and two false passports, they were ready to flee at a moment's notice.35
In their rush to get to Petrograd, the Whites had failed to cut the railway link to Moscow. This crucial blunder allowed the Reds to bring up reinforcements in time for a counter-offensive on 21 October. It was a sign of their desperation that even at the height of the battle against Denikin the Reds were prepared to transfer vital reserves from Tula to Petrograd. Lenin made the crucial decision, directly telephoning Os'kin himself. 'I was literally caught for breath when a voice on the telephone said "Lenin here",' Os'kin later wrote. He promised Lenin a whole brigade of highly disciplined Communist reserves who were to play a vital role in the counter-offensive. Kamenev, the Red Commander-in-Chief, called them 'our Queen of Spades' — the last trump card needed to win the game. Against Yudenich's 15,000 troops, the Reds now had almost 100,000 — enough even by their own wasteful standards to turn the tables against the Whites. After three days of brave and bloody fighting for the Pulkovo Heights — the Reds courageously held off Yudenich's tanks with nothing but their rifles — the Whites were pushed back towards Estonia. Without reserves, their retreat was just as quick as their advance had been. In mid-November the Estonians allowed Yudenich's forces to enter their country, although only after disarming them. Trotsky wanted to pursue the Whites into Estonia ('the kennel for the guard dogs of the counter-revolution'). But this proved unnecessary. Yudenich resigned and his army was disbanded. On New Year's Eve Estonia signed an armistice with Soviet Russia, followed by a peace treaty — Moscow's first with its border states — on 2 February 1920.36
To honour Trotsky's role in the defence of Petrograd, he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner, the first such order of its kind. Trotsky attained the status of a hero.* Gatchina, where much of the fighting had taken place, was renamed Trotsk. It was the first Soviet town to be named after a living Communist.
EVERYDAY LIFE UNDER THE BOLSHEVIKS
81-2 The fuel crisis in the cities. Above: Muscovites dismantle a town house for firewood. Below: a priest is commandeered to help transport timber. Many horses died for lack of food so human draught was used.
83-4 Selling to eat. Above: women of the 'former classes' sell their last possessions on the streets of Moscow. Below, a soldier buys a pair of shoes from a group of burzhooi fallen on hard times.
85-6 Selling to eat. Above: a low-level party functionary haggles over a fur scarf with a female trader at the Smolensk market, Moscow, 1920. The woman on the left has the appearance of a burzhooika. Below: traders at the Smolensk market, Moscow, 1920. The woman with the string bag and the loaf of bread is almost certainly a prostitute.
87 Putting the gentle classes to work. Two ex-tsarist officers are made to clear the streets under the inspection of a commissar with guards, the Apraksin market in Petrograd, 1918. The main purpose of this sort of forced labour was to humiliate and degrade the privileged classes of the old regime.
88 The Bolshevik war against the market. Cheka soldiers close down traders' stalls on the Okhotnyi Riad (Hunters' Row) in Moscow, May 1919.
89 Requisitioning the peasants' grain.
90 'Bagmen' travelled to and from the countryside exchanging food for manufactured goods. The result was chaos on the railways.
91 The 1 May subbotnik ('volunteer' labour on Saturday) on Red Square in Moscow, 1920.
92 By 1920 the state was feeding - or rather underfeeding - thirty million people in makeshift cafeterias like this one at the Kiev Station in Moscow.
93 The new ruling class: delegates of the Ninth All-Russian Party Congress, Moscow, 1920.
94 A typical example of the new bureaucracy: the Agitation and Propaganda Department of the Commissariat for Supply and Distribution in the Northern Region. Note the portrait of Marx, the leathered commissar, and the bourgeois daughters who served in such large numbers as secretaries.
95 The Smolny Institute on the anniversary of the October coup. But it was fast becoming not so much a bastion of the Marxist revolution as one of the corruption of the party elite.
* * * As Denikin's forces fled southwards they lost all semblance of discipline and began to break up in panic. Napoleon had once remarked about his own retreat from Moscow: 'from the sublime to the ridiculous it is only one step'. Much the same could be said for Denikin's.
It was not just the Reds who had caused, the Whites to panic. Makhno's partisans, Petliura's Ukrainian nationalists and various other partisan bands ambushed the White units from all sides as they retreated towards the Black Sea. Denikin's forces were passing through terrain where the local population, in Wrangel's words, 'had learned to hate us'. Then, in late November, came the shocking news that the British were ending their support for the Whites. Coupled with the news of Kolchak's defeat, this had a devastating effect on morale. 'In a couple of days the whole atmosphere in South Russia was changed,' remarked one eye-witness. 'Whatever firmness of purpose there had previously been was now so undermined that the worst became possible. [Lloyd] George's opinion that the Volunteer cause was doomed helped to make that doom almost certain.' The optimism that had so far maintained the White movement — Sokolov compared it to the gambler's desperate belief that his winning card would somehow turn up — now collapsed completely. Soldiers and officers deserted en masse. The Cossacks became disenchanted with the Whites. Many of the Kuban Cossacks refused to go on fighting unless Denikin satisfied their demands for a separate state.37
There was similar disenchantment within the huge White civilian camp. People no longer believed in victory, and thought only of how to flee abroad. Shops and cafes closed. There was a mad rush to exchange the Don roubles issued by Denikin for foreign currency. In a repeat of the panic scenes in Omsk, thousands of officers and civilians struggled to get aboard trains for the Black Sea ports. The wounded and the sick, whose numbers were swollen by a raging typhus epidemic, were simply abandoned. This could no longer be called a 'bourgeoisie on the run'. Most of the refugees were now penniless, whatever their former fortunes. It was a poor mass of naked humanity fleeing for its life. One witness saw this in the flight from Kharkov:
As the last Russian hospital train was preparing to leave one evening, in the dim light of the station lamps strange figures were seen crawling along the platform. They were grey and shapeless, like big wolves. They came nearer, and with horror it was recognized that they were eight Russian officers ill with typhus, dressed in their grey hospital dressing-gowns, who, rather than be left behind to be tortured and murdered by the Bolshevists, as was likely to be their fate, had crawled along on all fours through the snow from the hospital to the station, hoping to be taken away on a train.38
* And his opponents, notably Stalin, warned for the first time of the dangers of Bonapartism.
In the context of this moral collapse the White Terror reached its climax and the worst pogroms against the Jews were carried out. It was a last savage act of retribution against a race whom many of the Whites blamed for the revolution.
Anti-Semitism was a fact of life in Russia throughout the revolutionary period. Attacks on Jews often played a part in the violence of the crowd. The word pogrom could mean both an attack on the Jews and an assault on property in general. The tsarist regime, in stirring up the one, had always been careful not to let it spill over into the other. The scapegoating of Jews for the country's woes became much more widespread after 1914. The Pale of Settlement was broken down by the war and the Jews dispersed across Russia. They appeared in the major cities of the north for the first time in large numbers. During the revolution Jews entered the government and official positions also for the first time. Not many Jews were Bolsheviks, but many of the leading Bolsheviks were Jews. To large numbers of ordinary Russians, whose world had been turned upside-down, it thus appeared that their country's ruin was somehow connected with the sudden appearance of the Jews in places and positions of authority formerly reserved for the non-Jews. It was a short step from this to conclude that the Jews were plotting to bring about Russia's ruin. The result was mass Judeophobia. 'Hatred of the Jews', wrote a leading sociologist in 1921, 'is one of the most prominent features of Russian life today; perhaps even the most prominent. Jews are hated everywhere — in the north, in the south, in the east, and in the west. They are hated by people regardless of their class or education, political persuasion, race, or age.'39
During the early stages of the White movement in the south anti-Semitism played a relatively minor role. There were even Jews in the Volunteer Army, some of them heroes of the Ice March. OSVAG, Denikin's propaganda organ, employed many Jews. But as the Whites advanced into the Ukraine, where the Jewish population was more concentrated than in the Don, their ranks were engulfed by a vengeful hatred of the Jews. The initiative came from the Cossacks and their regimental officers, although Denikin, a passive anti-Semite, did little to resist it and several of his generals encouraged it. Jews were forced out of Denikin's army and administration. White propaganda portrayed the Bolshevik regime as a Jewish conspiracy and spread the myth that all its major leaders were Jews apart from Lenin.* As the head of the Red Army, Trotsky (or Bronstein, as he was parenthesized in the White press) was singled out as a monstrous 'Jewish mass-killer' of the Russian people. The Jews were blamed for the murder of the Tsar, for the persecution of the Orthodox Church and for the Red Terror. Now it is true that the Jews were prominent in the Kiev and other city Chekas. But this was used as a pretext to take a bloody revenge against the Jewish population as a whole. As the Chief Rabbi of Moscow once put it, it was the Trotskys who made the revolutions but it was the Bronsteins who paid the bills. Most of the White leaders, including Denikin, took the view that the Jews had brought the pogroms on themselves because of their 'support' for the Bolshevik regime. The whole of the White movement was seized by the idea that the persecution of the Jews was somehow justified as a popular means of counter-revolution. The Russian Rightist Shulgin, a major spokesman on the Jews' collective guilt, later acknowledged that the pogroms were a White revenge for the Red Terror. 'We reacted to the "Yids" just as the Bolsheviks reacted to the burzhoois. They shouted, "Death to the Burzhoois!" And we replied, "Death to the Yids!"'40
The first major pogroms were perpetrated by Petliura's Ukrainian nationalist bands in the winter of 1918—19. The partisans of Makhno and Grigoriev also carried out pogroms, as did the Poles in 1920, and some units of the Red Army. In all these pogroms, except those of the Poles (which were racially motivated), anti-Jewish violence was closely associated with the looting and destruction of Jewish property. The Ukrainian peasant soldiers hated the Jews mainly because they were traders, inn-keepers and money-lenders, in short the 'bourgeoisie' of the 'foreign' towns who had always exploited the 'simple villagers' and kept them living in poverty. It was common for pogrom leaders to impose a huge revolutionary tax on the Jews — in the belief that they were fantastically wealthy — and then to kill the hostages taken from them when the taxes were not paid. The Bolsheviks employed the same methods during the Red Terror. It was also common for the pogrom leaders to license their soldiers to loot Jewish shops and houses, murdering and raping the Jews in the process, and to allow the local Russian population to help themselves to a share of the spoils, under the pretext that the Jews had grown rich from speculating on the economic crisis and that their wealth should be returned to the people. The Bolsheviks called this looting the looters.
The pogroms carried out by Denikin's troops were largely driven by the same simple instinct to rob, rape and kill a Jewish population which was seen as wealthy, alien and weak. But in a way that was more apparent than in the earlier pogroms they were also motivated by a racial hatred for the Jews and by a hatred of them, in the words of one White officer, as the 'chosen people of the Bolsheviks'. Whole Jewish towns were burned and destroyed on the grounds that they had supported the Reds (was it any wonder that they did?). Red stars were painted on the synagogues. Jews were taken hostage and shot in reprisal for the Red Terror. Jewish corpses were displayed in the street with a sign marked 'Traitors', or with a Red Star cut into their flesh.41
* The myth gained currency in Western circles. General Holman, for example, the head of the British military mission to Denikin, told a Jewish delegation that of the thirty-six Commissars in Moscow, only Lenin was not a Jew (Shekhtman, Pogromy, 298).
On seizing a town from the Reds, it was common for the White officers to allow their soldiers two or three days' freedom to rob and kill the Jews at will. This was seen as a reward for the troops and a just retribution for the part played by the Jews in supporting the Reds. There were no recorded cases of a White officer ever halting a pogrom, but several cases where even senior generals, such as Mamontov and Mai-Maevsky, ordered them. One of the worst pogroms took place in Kiev, right under the noses of the White authorities. From I to 5 October the Cossack soldiers went around the city breaking into Jewish homes, demanding money, raping and killing. The officers and local priests urged them on with speeches claiming that 'The Yids kill all our people and support the Bolsheviks.' Even Shulgin, an ardent anti-Semite, was disturbed by the climate of 'medieval terror' in the streets and by the 'terrifying howl' of the 'Yids' at night 'that breaks the heart'. Yet General Dragomirov, who ruled the city, did not order a stop to the pogrom until the 6th, the day after the orgy of killing had finally burned itself out.42
Many pogroms were accompanied by gruesome acts of torture on a par with those of the Red Terror. In the town of Fastov the Cossacks hung their victims from the ceiling, releasing them just before they choked to death: if their relatives, who watched this in terror, could not pay up the money they had demanded, the Cossacks repeated the operation. The Cossacks cut off limbs and noses with their sabres and ripped out babies from their mothers' wombs. They set light to Jewish houses and forced those who tried to escape to turn back into the fire. In some places, such as Chernobyl, the Jews were herded into the synagogue, which was then burned down with them inside. In others, such as Cherkass, they gang-raped hundreds of pre-teen girls. Many of their victims were later found with knife and sabre wounds to their small vaginas. One of the most horrific pogroms took place in the small Podole town of Krivoe Ozero during the final stages of the Whites' retreat in late December. By this stage the White troops had ceased to care about world opinion and, as they contemplated defeat, threw all caution to the winds. The Terek Cossacks tortured and mutilated hundreds of Jews, many of them women and young children. Hundreds of corpses were left out in the snow for the dogs and pigs to eat. In the midst of this macabre scene the Cossack officers held a surreal ball in the town post office, complete with evening dress and an orchestra, to which they invited the local magistrate and a group of prostitutes they had brought with them from Kherson. While their soldiers went killing Jews for sport, the officers and their beau monde drank champagne and danced the night away.43
Thanks to the newly opened archives, we now have a fuller idea of how many Jews were killed by pogroms in the civil war. The precise number will never be known. Even the pogroms by the Whites, which are the best known, raise all sorts of statistical problems; and there were many other pogroms against Jews (by the Ukrainian nationalists, by Makhno's partisans, by the invading Polish forces and by the Reds) whose victims were never counted at all. But one can say with some certainty that the overall number of Jewish murder-victims must have been much higher than the 31,071 burials officially recorded or indeed the estimates of 50,000—60,000 deaths given by scholars in the past. The most important document to emerge from the Russian archives in recent years, a 1920 report of an investigation by the Jewish organizations in Soviet Russia, talks of 'more than 150,000 reported deaths' and up to 300,000 victims, including the wounded and the dead.44
* * * The fleeing thousands of Denikin's regime all piled into Novorossiisk, the main Allied port on the Black Sea, in the hope of being evacuated on an Allied ship. By March 1920, the town was crammed full of desperate refugees. Dignitaries of the old regime slept a dozen to each room. Typhus reaped a dreadful harvest among the hordes of unwashed humanity. Prince E. N. Trubetskoi and Purishkevich died in the awful conditions of Novorossiisk. No one gave any more thought to the idea of fighting the Reds, whose cavalry encircled the town. Seven years of war and revolution had bred in these people a psyche of defeat — and they now thought only of escape. British guns were thrown into the sea. Cossacks shot their horses. Everyone wanted to leave Russia but not everyone could be taken by the Allied ships. Priority was given to the troops, 50,000 of whom were carried off to the Crimea on 27 March. That left 60,000 Whites at the mercy of the Reds. Amidst the final panic to get on board there were ugly scenes: princesses brawled like fish-wives; men and women knelt on the quay and begged the Allied officers to save their lives; some people threw themselves into the sea.45
For Denikin's critics, this botched evacuation was the final straw. A generals' revolt had been steadily gaining ground since the first reverses of the autumn, as it became clear that the Moscow Directive had been a strategic error. On arriving in the Crimea, they now demanded Denikin's resignation. General Wrangel emerged as the clear successor from a poll of the senior commanders. Because of their repugnance at the idea of 'electing' a new leader — that would smack of the democracy that had destroyed the army in 1917 — they prevailed upon Denikin to resign and 'appoint' Wrangel as his successor. This was the final insult for Denikin, who had only recently discharged his rival. He was now obliged to recall him from Constantinople, where Wrangel had been in exile. The same British ship that brought Wrangel back to Russia took Denikin to the Turkish capital. He would never see his fatherland again.
Under General Wrangel the Whites made one last stand against the Bolsheviks. But it was obvious from the start that their task was doomed. The Soviet war against Poland, which diverted Red troops from the Southern Front, briefly enabled the Whites to gain a toe-hold in the Crimea. But it was only a matter of time before the Reds turned their attention to them again: and when they did so the outcome was never really in doubt. To all intents and purposes, the Whites were defeated in April 1920.
What were the fundamental reasons for their failure? The White emigre communities would agonize for years over this question. Historians whose views are broadly sympathetic to the White cause have often stressed the 'objective factors' that were said to have stacked the odds against them.46 The Reds had an overwhelming superiority of numbers, they controlled the vast terrain of central Russia with its prestigious capitals, most of the country's industry and the core of its railway network, which enabled them to shift their forces from one Front to another. The Whites, by contrast, were divided between several different Fronts, which made it difficult to co-ordinate their operations; and they were dependent on the untrustworthy Allies for much of their supplies. Other historians have stressed the strategic errors of the Whites, the Moscow Directive foremost among them, and the Reds' superior leadership, commitment and discipline.
All these factors were no doubt relevant — and in a conventional war they might well have been enough to explain the outcome. But the Russian civil war was a very different sort of war. It was fought between armies which could count neither on the loyalty of their mostly conscript troops nor on the support of the civilian population within the territories they claimed to control. Most people wanted nothing to do with the civil war: they kept their heads down and tried to remain neutral. As one Jew told Babel, all the armies claimed to be fighting for justice, but all of them pillaged just the same.47 By 1920, when Russia was reduced to the brink of starvation, many people would no doubt have welcomed any 'tsar' so long as he could provide them with bread. Both the Reds and the Whites were constantly crippled by mass desertion, by the breakdown of supplies, by strikes and peasant revolts in the rear. But their ability to maintain their campaigns in spite of all these problems depended less on military factors than on political ones. It was essentially a question of political organization and mass mobilization. Terror of course also played a role. But by itself terror was not enough — the people were too many and the regimes too weak to apply it everywhere — and, in any case, terror often turned out to be counter-productive.
Here the Reds had one crucial advantage that enabled them to get more soldiers on to the batdefield when it really mattered: they could claim to be defending 'the revolution' — a conveniently polyvalent symbol on to which the people could project their own ideals. Being able to fight under the Red Flag gave the Bolsheviks a decisive advantage. Its symbolic power largely accounts for the fact that the peasants, including hundreds of thousands of deserters, rallied to the Red Army during the Whites' advance towards Moscow in the autumn of 1919. The peasants believed that a White victory would reverse their own revolution on the land. It was only after the final defeat of the Whites that the peasant revolts against the Bolsheviks assumed mass proportions. This same 'defence of the revolution' also helps to explain the fact that many workers, despite their complaints against the Bolsheviks, rallied behind the Soviet regime during Yudenich's advance towards Petrograd.
At the root of the Whites' defeat was a failure of politics. They proved unable and unwilling to frame policies capable of getting the mass of the population on their side. Their movement was based, in Wrangel's phrase, on 'the cruel sword of vengeance'; their only idea was to put the clock back to the 'happy days' before 1917; and they failed to see the need to adapt themselves to the realities of the revolution. The Whites' failure to recognize the peasant revolution on the land and the national independence movements doomed them to defeat. As Denikin was the first to acknowledge, victory depended on a popular revolt against the Reds within central Russia. Yet that revolt never came. Rather than rallying the people to their side the Whites, in Wrangel's words, 'turned them into enemies'.48
This was partly a problem of image. Although Kolchak and Denikin both denied being monarchists, there were too many supporters of a tsarist restoration within their ranks, which created the popular image — and gave ammunition to the propaganda of their enemies — that they were associated with the old regime. The Whites made no real effort to overcome this problem with their image. Their propaganda was extremely primitive and, in any case, it is doubtful whether any propaganda could have overcome this mistrust. In the end, then, the defeat of the Whites comes down largely to their own dismal failure to break with the past and to regain the initiative within the agenda of 1917. The problem of the Russian counter-revolution was precisely that: it was too counter-revolutionary.
With the defeat of the Whites the Old Russia of Prince Lvov had finally been buried. 'My heart bleeds', he wrote to Rodichev in November 1920, 'for my distant and unhappy native land. It pains me to think of the torments being suffered there by my friends and relatives — and indeed by all the people.'
In 1918 Lvov had insisted on the need to fight the Reds by military means. He had not believed in the possibility of a democratic movement within Russia. Yet by 1920 even he had come to see that this was wrong. 'We were mistaken to think that the Bolsheviks could be defeated by physical force,' he wrote to Bakhmetev in November. 'They can only be defeated by the Russian people. And for that the Whites would need a democratic programme.'49