At the age of sixty-six, when most men are planning to play with their grandchildren, Brusilov made the most dramatic change of his entire military career and volunteered to serve in the Red Army. It was no ordinary defection from the old corps of tsarist generals. Brusilov was Russia's most famous soldier, its only hero from the First World War, and as such the last living symbol of a winning aristocratic past. News of his appointment in May 1920 to a Special Conference of Trotsky's Revolutionary Military Council came as a rude shock to all those who looked back with nostalgia to the days before 1917. 'Brusilov has betrayed Russia,' one ex-colonel wrote. 'How can it be that he prefers to defend the Bolsheviks and the Jews rather than his fatherland?' added the wife of an old Guards officer. False rumours circulated that Brusilov had received lavish bribes (two million roubles, a Kremlin apartment) for his services to the Reds. The General collected a drawerful of hate-mail. How, asked one, could a nobleman like him choose to serve the Reds at a time when 'the Cheka jails are full of Russian officers'? It was 'nothing less than a betrayal'. All this weighed heavily on Brusilov's conscience.* 'It was the hardest moment of my life,' he wrote five years later. 'All the time there was a deathly silence in the house. The family walked about on tiptoes and talked in whispers. My wife and sister had tears in their eyes.''2 It was as if they were mourning for their past.
Brusilov's conversion to the Reds was a case of putting country before class. He had every reason to hate the Bolsheviks, and often called them the Antichrist. They had not only imprisoned him but had also virtually murdered his sick brother and arrested several of his closest friends during the Red Terror. Yet Brusilov refused to join the Whites. Two wounds — his wounded leg and his wounded pride at the White adulation for his old rival Kornilov — stopped him from going to the Don. He was also still convinced that it was his duty to remain in Russia, standing by the people even if they chose the Reds. Bolshevism, in the old general's view, was bound to be a 'temporary sickness' since 'its philosophy of internationalism is fundamentally alien to the Russian people'. By working with the Bolsheviks, patriots like him could redirect the revolution towards national ends. It was, as he saw it, a question of diluting Red with White — of 'turning the Red Star into a Cross' — and thus reconciling the revolution with the continuities of Russian history. 'My sense of duty to the nation has often obliged me to disobey my natural social inclinations,' Brusilov said in 1918. Although as an aristocrat he clearly sympathized with the Whites and rejoiced when their armies advanced towards Moscow, he always thought that their cause was both doomed and flawed by its dependence upon the intervention of the Allies. The fate of Russia, for better or worse, had to be decided by its own people.73
* Brusilov tried to make the release of the officers a condition of his service for the Reds. Trotsky agreed to do what he could but admitted that he himself was 'not on good terms with the Cheka and that Dzerzhinsky could even arrest him'. Brusilov later set up a special office to appeal for the release of the officers — and as a result of its efforts several hundred officers were released (RGVIA, f. 162, op. 2, d. 18).
During the past year two things had happened to strengthen his convictions. One was the murder of his only son, a Red Army commander whose cavalry regiment had been captured by the Whites in the battle for Orel in September 1919. No one knew for certain how Alexei died but Brusilov was convinced that he had been executed on Denikin's orders when the Whites found out who he was. Denikin was thought to despise Brusilov for having overseen the 'destruction of the army' during 1917. The fact that Alexei had only joined the Reds in the hope of persuading the Cheka to spare his father's life left Brusilov full of remorse. He blamed himself for Alexei's death and was determined to avenge it.74 Blood, if not class, had made him Red.
So too had Russian nationalism. The Polish invasion of the Ukraine was the other vital factor behind Brusilov's conversion to the Reds. Since its partition in the eighteenth century, Poland had lived in the shadows of the three great empires of Eastern Europe. But suddenly with the Versailles Treaty it found itself with a guarantee of independence and a great deal of new territory given to it by the victorious Western powers as a buffer between Germany and Russia. It often does not take much for a former nation-victim to behave like a nation-aggressor; and as soon as Poland gained its independence it began to strut around with imperial pretensions of its own. Marshal Pilsudski, the head of the Polish state and army, talked of restoring 'historic Poland' which had once stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. He promised to reclaim her eastern borderlands — the 'Lithuania' cherished by Mickiewicz and other Polish patriots of the nineteenth century — that had been lost to Russia in the partitions. These were ethnically intermingled regions — Polish and Jewish cities like Lvov, Polish former landowners and Ukrainian or Belorussian peasants — to which both Russia and Poland had a claim. As the Germans withdrew from the east, Polish troops marched in to the borderlands. Pilsudski led the capture of Wilno in April 1919. During the summer the Poles continued to advance into Belorussia and the western Ukraine, capturing Minsk and Lvov. Fighting halted for a while in the winter as the Poles and Russians haggled over borders. But these negotiations broke down in the spring of 1920, when the Poles launched a new offensive. Largely supplied by the Allies, and having signed a pact with Petliura, Pilsudski led a combined force of Poles and Ukrainian nationalists in a mad dash towards Kiev, then held very tenuously by the Bolsheviks. It was a desperate bid to transform the Ukraine into a Polish satellite state. The roots of this adventure went back to the previous winter, when Petliura, forced out of the Ukraine by the Reds, had settled in Warsaw and signed a pact with Pilsudski. By this agreement Petliura's Ukrainian nationalist forces would help the Poles to re-invade the Ukraine and, once they were reinstalled in power in Kiev, would cede to Poland the western Ukraine. It was in effect a Polish Brest-Litovsk. The Poles advanced swiftly towards Kiev, whilst the Reds, who were also facing the Whites in the south, broke up in confusion. On 6 May the Poles took Kiev without much resistance. It was less an invasion than a parade. The residents of Kiev watched their new rulers march into the city with apparent indifference. This, after all, was the eleventh time that Kiev had been occupied since 1917 — and it was not to be the last.*
For Russian patriots like Brusilov the capture of Kiev by the Poles was nothing less than a national disaster. This was not just any other city but the birthplace of Russian civilization. It was inconceivable that the Ukraine — 'Little Russia' — should be anything but Orthodox. Brusilov's ancestors in the eighteenth century had given up their lives defending the Ukraine against the Poles, and as a result the Brusilovs had been given large amounts of land there. Having spent the war and millions of Russian lives defending the western Ukraine from the Austrians, Brusilov was damned if he would now let it pass to the Poles without a fight. He thought it was 'inexcusable that Wrangel should attack Russia at this moment', even more so since the Whites had clearly planned their attack to coincide with that of the Poles. The Whites were placing their own class interests above those of the Russian Empire — something Brusilov had refused to do. On I May he wrote to N. I. Rattel, a Major-General in the imperial army and now Trotsky's Chief of Staff, offering to help the Reds against the Poles. 'It seems to me', he wrote, 'that the most important task is to engender a sense of popular patriotism.' The war against Poland, in his view, could only be won 'under the Russian national flag', since only this could unite the whole Russian people:
* The twelve changes of regime in Kiev were as follows: (I) 3 March—9 Nov 1917: Provisional Government; (2) 9 Nov I9I7-9 Feb 1918: Ukrainian National Republic (UNR); (3) 9-29 Feb 1918: First Ukrainian Soviet Republic; (4) I March 1918: occupation by the army of the UNR; (5) 2 March-I2 Dec 1918: German occupation; (6) 14 Dec I9I8-4 Feb 1919: Directory of the UNR; (7) 5 Feb-29 Aug 1919: Second Ukrainian Soviet Republic; (8) 30 Aug 1919: occupation by forces of Directory of the UNR; (9) 31 Aug—15 Dec 1919: occupation by White forces; (10) 15 Dec I9I9-5 May 1920: Third Ukrainian Soviet Republic; (II) 6 May-II June 1920: Polish occupation; (12) 2 June I920-: final Ukrainian Soviet Republic.
Communism is completely unintelligible to the millions of barely literate peasants and it is doubtful that they will fight for it. If Christianity failed to unify the people in two thousand years, how can Communism hope to do so when most of the people had not even heard of it three years ago? Only the idea of Russia can do that.75
Trotsky at once saw the propaganda victory to be won by getting Brusilov to join the Reds. The next day he announced the general's appointment as the Chairman of a Special Conference in command of the Western Front.* Printed in Pravda on 7 May, the announcement was typical of the increasingly xenophobic tone of the Bolsheviks' rhetoric. It called on all patriots to join the army and 'defend the Fatherland' from the 'Polish invaders', who were 'trying to tear from us lands that have always belonged to the Russians'. Trotsky claimed that the Poles were driven by 'hatred of Russia and the Russians'. The Red Army journal, Voennoe delo, published a xenophobic article (for which it was later suspended) contrasting the 'innate Jesuitry of the Polacks' with the 'honourable and open spirit of the Great Russian race'. Radek characterized the whole of the civil war as a 'national struggle of liberation against foreign invasion'. The Reds, he said, were 'defending Mother Russia' against the efforts of the Whites and the Allies to 'make it a colony' of the West. 'Soviet Russia', he concluded on a note of warning to the newly independent states, aimed to 'reunite all the Russian lands and defend Russia from colonial exploitation.'76 It was back to the old imperialism.
The Bolsheviks were stunned by the success of their own patriotic propaganda. It brought home to them the huge potential of Russian nationalism as a means of popular mobilization. It was a potential Stalin later realized. Within a few weeks of Brusilov's appointment, 14,000 officers had joined the Red Army to fight the Poles, thousands of civilians had volunteered for war-work, and well over 100,000 deserters had returned to the Red Army on the Western Front. There were mass patriotic demonstrations with huge effigies of Pilsudski and Curzon which the protesters proceeded to burn. 'We never thought', Zinoviev confessed, 'that Russia had so many patriots.'77
But in fact the patriotic motives that had driven Brusilov to join the Reds were shared by many people from the Old Russia. National Bolshevism, as their creed was later called, urged the patriotic intelligentsia to rally behind the Soviet state, now that it had won the civil war, for the resurrection of a Great Russia. It was an echo of the call by Vekhi to give up opposition to the tsarist regime after the 1905 Revolution — and this was reflected in the title of its journal, Smena vekh (Change of Landmarks), whose first issue, in November 1921, paid homage to Brusilov. Nikolai Ustrialov, the best-known exponent of National Bolshevism, was a right-wing Kadet who had been a propagandist for Kolchak's regime before defecting to the Reds in 1920 on the grounds that they had won the civil war through the support of the Russian people and their revolution could be redirected towards national goals. 'The interests of the Soviet system will inevitably coincide with Russia's national interests,' he wrote in 1920. 'The Bolsheviks, by the logic of events, will progress from Jacobinism to Napoleonism.' If enough patriots joined the Reds, Ustrialov argued, the Soviet regime would be Russified. It would be turned White from the inside. Ustrialov glorified the Bolsheviks for two main reasons: for what he (and many other intellectuals such as Blok and the Scythians) saw as their Asiatic Slavophilism, uniting the East against the West; and for their restoration of a strong Russian state. He defended the Bolshevik dictatorship as a necessary remedy for the anarchy which had engulfed the country since 1917. He urged the Bolsheviks to recreate the Russian Empire (crushing all those pygmy states') and to reassert its power in the world. Such sentiments were widely shared by the intelligentsia. In a sense National Bolshevism was the true victor of the civil war. 'We lost but we won,' the Rightist Shulgin wrote in 1920. 'The Bolsheviks beat us but they raised the banner of a united Russia.' It was not just a question of the Right, although the old imperialists were among the first to rally round the Red flag of a Great Russia. For the Left, too, it was a short step from the worship of 'the people' and its powers of destruction to the acceptance of the Bolshevik regime as the outcome of that 'national revolution' and the only means of Russia's resurrection. This was the logic that drove many socialists to join the Bolsheviks after the civil war. Even Gorky was swept along by the patriotic tide. Writing to H. G. Wells in May 1920, he was angry with a London Times reporter for claiming he had found a human finger in his soup at a restaurant in Petrograd. 'Believe me,' he fumed with national pride, 'I am not unaware of the negative aspects created by the war and revolution, but I also see that in the Russian masses there is awakening a great creative will.'78
* Apart from Brusilov the conference included his two closest friends from the tsarist army, Generals Klembovsky and Zaionchkovsky, as well as his old ally Polivanov, the former Minister of War.
This groundswell of patriotism no doubt partly influenced the Bolshevik decision to turn the defensive war against Poland into an offensive one. Having driven the Poles back from Kiev, in mid-July the Reds crossed the Curzon Line — where the Allies drew the Polish-Russian border — and continued to advance towards Warsaw. Since this would not be the last time the Red Army would move across the Russian border into Europe — it did so again in 1945 — it is important, not least for our understanding of the Cold War, to work out the Bolsheviks' motives in this counter-offensive against Poland. Some historians, such as Norman Davies and Richard Pipes, have staked their scholarly reputations on the argument that, if Warsaw had fallen to the Red Army, Lenin would have ordered it to push on to Berlin in preparation for a general assault on Western Europe.79
It is true, as Pipes and Davies have both argued, that the Bolsheviks viewed the invasion of Poland as a likely catalyst to the revolution not just in Poland but throughout Europe. Following the Red Army to Warsaw was a Provisional Polish Revolutionary Committee led by Dzerzhinsky, which would hand over power to the Communists once it arrived in the Polish capital. This was the height of the Bolsheviks' optimism in the exportability of Communism. Their expectations had been raised by the Spartacist Revolt in Berlin and the short-lived Soviet Republics in Hungary and Bavaria during 1919. In that spring, when the Comintern was formed, Zinoviev had predicted that 'in a year the whole of Europe will be Communist'. There was a time, he later admitted, when 'we had thought that only a few days or even hours remained before the inevitable revolutionary uprising'. By the summer of 1920 the Comintern had spread its influence throughout the capitals of Europe. Hardly a month went by without some delegation of Western socialists arriving in Russia to inspect and report back on the Great Experiment. Moscow was turned into one vast Potemkin village, with happy groups of workers and lavish banquets laid on for these naive foreign dignitaries, so that they went home full of praise. The Second Congress of the Comintern, which met in Moscow at the height of the advance towards Warsaw, aimed to create a single European Communist Party under Moscow's guidance. The mood of the Congress was expectant. Every day the delegates followed the movement of the Red Army on a great map which was hung on the wall of the Congress hall. Lenin, who had insisted on the invasion of Poland against the advice of both Trotsky and Stalin, was convinced that the European revolution was just around the corner. It was inevitable, in his dogmatic Marxist view, that every other country should reach its October. The Kapp Putsch of March 1920 was a 'German Kornilov affair'; Estonia was 'passing through its Kerensky period'; while Britain, with its Councils of Action, was in 'its period of Dual Power'.80
There is no doubt that Lenin's insistence that every other country should follow Russia's road was symptomatic of a general Bolshevik imperiousness. It was that mixture of Russian nationalism and Communist internationalism which later came to characterize the whole dogmatic tone of Soviet foreign policy. The Bolsheviks boasted that Russia led the world when it came to making revolutions and assumed that all foreign Communists should be made to toe the Moscow line. That was certainly the essence of the Comintern Congress and its '21 Conditions' for admission to the new International. The Comintern was a Bolshevik Empire.
But it is a long way from this to argue that Lenin was planning to impose his revolution on Western countries by the bayonet. It was not a question of volition — had it been possible for the Red Army to take Berlin or even Budapest Lenin might well have ordered it do so — but rather one of practicalities. The Bolsheviks were painfully aware that their own peasant army, and even more so their exhausted economy, could not sustain a winter offensive, especially one in a foreign field. That was why they were so quick to make peace with Poland during the autumn of 1920, even though it cost them a territorial foothold in Galicia which, in Lenin's own words, could have 'opened up a straight road of revolution ... to Czechoslovakia and Hungary'. Why then did they bother to invade Poland at all? A newly published speech by Lenin to the Ninth Party Conference in September 1920 provides the most convincing evidence so far. It suggests that the offensive against Warsaw was not supposed to be the start of an invasion of the West — as Richard Pipes has misleadingly suggested — but on the contrary a deterrent to the West against invading Russia. Lenin believed that Pilsudski's Poland had been built up by the Western powers as a weapon against Soviet Russia. As he saw it, a well-armed Poland fitted in with the general Allied plan to encircle Russia with hostile powers: Warsaw, Washington and Wrangel were connected. By invading Poland, the central pillar of the Versailles Treaty, Lenin aimed to 'shake' the Western system. With Poland Sovietized there would be an increased threat of the revolution spreading to the West, or so at least he believed. This was a form of national self-assertion, a way of warning the capitalist powers that Russia would no longer allow itself to be 'carved up' by them and would fight back when attacked. It was a political offensive against the Western capitals, a declaration of the 'international civil war', but not the start of the invasion of Europe. Naturally, it must be borne in mind that Lenin's speech was given in the immediate aftermath of the Red Army's defeat at Warsaw: there was thus a powerful motive to put on a brave face and boost the party's morale by claiming that in any case the offensive's political aims had been achieved. But, until new evidence proves to the contrary, it remains the most convincing explanation of the Bolsheviks' motives in Poland.81 The lessons of the Red defeat in Poland were extremely painful for the Bolsheviks to learn. There had certainly been military errors. Tukhachevsky's Western Army had rushed ahead towards Warsaw, underestimating the determination of the Poles to defend their capital and cutting off his own troops from their supplies. The South-Western Army had failed to support them, continuing to advance in the opposite direction towards Lvov, which Stalin seemed determined to take at all costs. The result was that Tukhachevsky's southern flank became exposed, allowing Pilsudski to launch a counter-offensive and drive the Reds back into Russia, where, with the first snows falling in October, the Front stabilized. But the root of the defeat was political: the Polish workers had failed to rise in support of the invading Red Army but, on the contrary, had rallied to Pilsudski. Nationalism proved a more potent force than international
Communism. Lenin soon admitted his mistake. 'Poland was not ready for a social revolution,' he told the Party Conference in September. 'We encountered a nationalist upsurge from the petty bourgeois elements* as our advance towards Warsaw made them fear for their national survival.' Lenin realized that the same would also hold true for the rest of Europe. Trying to impose Communism from the outside would merely have the effect of turning its potential supporters into nationalists.82
Defeat in Poland finally made the Bolsheviks give up their fantasies of a European revolution. The Treaty of Riga, signed with Poland in March 1921, marked the start of a new era of peaceful co-existence between Russia and the West. Moscow recognized an enlarged Poland — and thus by implication the Versailles Treaty — by ceding to it much of Belorussia. Trading was resumed with Britain the same month. No one in the West took the threat of a Soviet invasion seriously any more. The Polish disaster had clearly shown that Russia's peasant army was not strong enough to sustain an offensive against even the smaller Western powers. The lesson for the Bolsheviks was clear: their best chances of exporting Communism lay to the East.
The Asiatic strategy had first been proposed by Trotsky in a secret memorandum written as early as August 1919:
There is no doubt at all that our Red Army constitutes an incomparably more powerful force in the Asian terrain of world politics than in the European terrain. Here there opens up before us an undoubted possibility not merely of a lengthy wait to see how events develop in Europe, but of conducting activity in the Asian field. The road to India may prove at the given moment to be more readily passable and shorter for us than the road to Soviet Hungary... The road to Paris and London lies via the towns of Afghanistan, the Punjab and Bengal.
By the summer of 1920 a dual policy had taken shape: revolutionary agitation in the East combined with support for national liberation movements, even of a 'bourgeois' nature, against Western imperialism. Whilst making peace with the British in the West, the Bolsheviks pursued an undeclared war against them in the East. They backed the Afghan rebels and subverted the British protectorate in northern Persia. There is even evidence that Lenin tried to form an army of Central Asian tribes to invade India through Afghanistan.83
The Congress of the Peoples of the East, held in Baku in September 1920, was the first attempt to spread Communism into Asia. It was also the last. No doubt the chaos of the Congress floor had much to do with this. With 1,900 delegates from dozens of countries as far afield as Turkey and Japan, it took ages and a great deal of general babble to translate the speeches into all the languages. Some delegates had dubious credentials: there were various khans and beks who turned out to be traders and who spent the duration of the Congress selling carpets in the markets of Baku. Apart from the delegates, the Congress received hundreds of messages of support from towns and villages across Asia. One of these announced the sacrificial slaughter of a hundred sheep and cattle in honour of the people's liberation, and requested help from the Congress to transport them to Baku. This, in short, was a colourful pageant, 'a Beano', as H. G. Wells, a witness, put it, but 'as a meeting of Asiatic proletarians it was preposterous'. The delegates dressed up in their national costumes and marched in procession through Baku. Effigies of Lloyd George, Millerand and Wilson, got up in court dress, were burned. Speakers declared their undying hatred of British imperialism; while Zinoviev, brushing aside Poland, claimed that 'the real revolution will flare up only when we are joined by the 800 million people who live in Asia.'84 But in terms of its influence on Asia, the Congress had almost no effect.
* By which he meant workers and peasants not yet advanced enough for Bolshevism.
* * * The Bolsheviks' support for national-liberation movements in the British Empire contrasted starkly with their opposition to them in former Russian colonies. Lenin had always planned to reconstruct the basic geographic framework of the Russian Empire. His concessions to national self-determination in the programme of 1911 were no more than tactical. He argued that nationalism could be used to destroy the tsarist state and that, after a suitable interlude of 'bourgeois' national rule, the non-Russians would rejoin Russia as a socialist federation. What he meant by this is a different question. Was Lenin genuine in his public professions of support for a free federation of sovereign republics, each by implication with the right of secession, or was he planning, by force if necessary, to make the borderlands rejoin a unitary Russian state? Certainly, in his private letters Lenin was cynical about the idea of a loose confederation. In 1913, for example, he wrote to Gorky that 'the Austrian type of abomination' would not be allowed to happen in Russia. 'We will not permit it. There are more Great Russians here. With the workers on our side we won't allow any of the "Austrian spirit".'85
During the civil war this question became lost in the exigencies of military struggle. The Reds conquered the borderlands as they drove the Whites out, and imposed the same forms of centralized control as in the rest of Russia through the party and the Red Army. This could be seen as a conscious strategy to rebuild the Empire under Communist control; there were certainly enough Russian chauvinists among the conquering institutions to support this plan. But in many ways the conquest of the borderlands was much more dependent upon local conditions than this would suggest. Under pressure from the native Communists, Lenin came to realize by 1920 that conquest in itself was not enough to control the non-Russian territories — at least not without the constant resistance of the native population. The effective exercise of power necessitated the recruitment of leaders who could speak the native language and give the regime a national veneer. Since the native population was based mainly in the villages, and the regime in the cities, it also demanded a softer approach towards the peasants. In this sense the New Economic Policy was closely linked with the process of state-building in the non-Russian lands. The Tenth Party Congress of March 1921, which introduced the NEP, also passed a resolution calling on the party to foster national cultures. Korenizatsiia (indigenization) was the thrust of Bolshevik policy in the 1920s. The domain of the native language was extended into education, publishing and administration. Schools and colleges were rapidly established to train up a native elite. Peasant boys from the native population became clerks in the towns, hitherto dominated by the Russians. In the cultural sphere, at least, the Soviet regime was in many ways continuing the work of nation-building and modernization begun by the nationalists before 1917. Granting cultural and economic freedom largely pacified the native peasantry, leaving what remained of the nationalist intelligentsia without a popular base.
In the Ukraine the nationalist movement had already collapsed by the time the Bolsheviks launched their third and final invasion during the autumn of 1919. The military vicissitudes of 1917—20, when the Ukraine had ten different regimes, were hardly conducive to national unity. Two brief spells of nationalist rule in Kiev — the Rada of March 1917 to February 1918, and the Directory of the following December to February 1919 — were not enough to inculcate a national consciousness into the Ukrainian peasantry, who were largely cut off from and hostile to the towns. Until the end of the nineteenth century, the idea of an independent Ukrainian state had existed mainly in Shevchenko's poetry and Cossack myth. With the exception of the western Ukraine, where the landowners were mainly Poles, the mass of the peasants remained untouched by the intelligentsia's nationalism. The strength of the peasantry's attachment to the idea of the independent village made them hostile to a national state. During 1917, however, the socialist parties in the Rada had built up a mass base of rural electoral support by linking the idea of national independence with the autonomy of the village and a land reform in the interests of the peasants. They succeeded in translating the abstract concept of the nation into social terms which were real to the peasantry. But the promised land reforms were never carried out. The Rada and the Directory were politically paralysed by the growing internal division between nationalists like Petliura, who subordinated social reforms to the national struggle, and those like Vinnichenko, who subordinated nationalism to social change. Without land reform, the peasants had little incentive to fight for an independent Ukraine. Neither the Rada nor the Directory was able to mobilize a truly national force against the invading armies of the Reds or the Whites. Even Petliura was forced to raise his so-called National Army on Polish soil.
The urban head of the Ukrainian national movement was thus cut off from its rural body. What remained was a local peasant nationalism, focused on the idea of the autonomous village, which continued to dominate the Ukraine, making it virtually impossible to rule from the cities, until the early 1920s. This smallholders' nationalism was seen in the atamanshchina, the local peasant bands of Makhno, Grigoriev and countless other warlords, who claimed to defend the free Ukrainian village from both Whites and Reds; in the rural economic war against the towns, which the peasants saw as 'foreign' and as the centres of a hostile state; and in the pogroms against Jews as the outward symbols of that alien nature. It was also seen in the mass appeal of the Borotbist Party, formed from the Ukrainian Left SRs, which stressed cultural nationalism as a form of village autonomy, a means of uniting and empowering the peasants in the revolutionary struggle against the Russified urban bourgeoisie.
It was this peasant nationalism which made life so hard for the Bolsheviks in their first two attempts to conquer the Ukraine (during the first three months of 1918 and the first six of 1919). With only the workers and the army on their side, they were reduced to ruling it by terror. The second of these two Red regimes was especially violent. Bulgakov captured its terrible power in his image of the huge Red armoured train in the forest outside Kiev at the end of The White Guard. It is a good example of the way that sometimes only a novelist can describe the essence of civil war:
The locomotive rose up like a black, multi-faceted mass of metal, red-hot cinders dropping out of its belly on to the rails, so that from the side it looked as if the womb of the locomotive was stuffed with glowing coals. As it hissed gently and malevolently, something was oozing through a chink in its side armour, while its blunt snout glowered silently toward the forest that lay between it and the Dnieper. On the last flat-car the bluish-black muzzle of a heavy calibre gun, gagged with a muzzle-cover, pointed straight towards the City eight miles away.
This second invasion of the Ukraine was almost certainly carried out on Stalin's personal authorization but without the knowledge or approval of Lenin. It was led by a group of Bolsheviks who were determined to bring the Ukraine back under Moscow's rule. Many of them were Russians from the Ukraine who had taken up Bolshevism partly as a form of identification with Russia itself. Georgii Piatakov, who instigated the invasion and became the head of the Bolshevik regime in the Ukraine, was typical of this conquering Soviet elite. His father had been a Russian industrialist in the Ukraine, so it could be said that a certain urban-Russian arrogance towards the native peasants was inbred in him. Like many leading Bolsheviks on the Southern Front — Voroshilov, Kaganovich and Ordzhonikidze also come to mind — Piatakov had close ties with Stalin. The extreme centralism which he imposed on the Ukraine was a thin disguise for his own Great Russian chauvinism. The Ukrainian nationalist intelligentsia were imprisoned in their hundreds during the Red Terror of 1919. 'Bourgeois property' was sent off by the train-load to Moscow. Nearly all the Bolshevik posts in the Ukraine were filled by Russians, who ruled the country like colonial masters. The Ukrainian peasants were subjected to the worst excesses of the Bolshevik requisitioning campaigns. The kombeiy and the collective farms, both of which had clearly failed in Russia itself, were forcibly imposed on the Ukrainian peasants — and this despite the fact that the traditions of private and inheritable property were much more deeply rooted among the Ukrainian peasants than among the Russian ones.86
The result was a wave of peasant revolts against the Bolshevik regime throughout the Ukraine, of which Makhno's was merely the largest. Lenin was furious: the insensitivity of Piatakov's regime had undermined the Reds' control of the Ukraine and opened the door to its conquest by the Whites. During the autumn of 1919, as the Reds once again swept south across the Ukraine, Lenin insisted that this time his comrades should be more sensitive to national sentiment. The 'Federalists' among the Ukrainian Bolsheviks had been calling for this for some time, and their views were now being echoed by senior Bolsheviks such as Ordzhonikidze. 'We must find a common language with the Ukrainian peasant,' he wrote to Lenin on 19 November. These themes were taken up by Lenin in December. At the Eighth Party Conference he spoke out for the first time against the 'primitive Russian chauvinism' displayed by certain Bolsheviks. The resolution on the Ukrainian question recognized the strength of national sentiment, albeit among the 'backward' masses. It called for the use of the Ukrainian language in all Soviet institutions and for a rapprochement with the Ukrainian villages.87
In March 1920, as the first step towards this, the Borotbists were finally admitted to the Ukrainian Bolshevik Party. Like the earlier alliance with the Russian Left SRs, this was a great political victory for the Bolsheviks: it split the main rival party in the Ukraine and gave them access to the villages. The Borotbists were the only Ukrainian party with a mass peasant following. During the campaigns against the Hetmanate, Petliura and Denikin, the Reds had relied upon them to organize the peasant partisans. The Borotbists espoused a synthesis of cultural nationalism and peasant socialism within a decentralized Soviet federal structure. They were the true heirs of the peasant nationalism which had driven the revolution in the Ukraine during 1917 and 1918. When the Ukrainian Directory abandoned its commitment to a socialist programme, most of the Borotbists (about 4,000 out of 5,000) joined the Bolsheviks. They hoped to moderate the Bolsheviks' Communism and to make them more aware of the national culture of the Ukrainian peasants.88 Once again, it was nationalism that turned these opponents of the Bolsheviks Red.
Although, in the long run, the Borotbists failed, they did succeed in gaining a decade of relative cultural autonomy for the Ukraine during the 1920s. National sentiments, defeated in the form of the Ukrainian national movement, reappeared within the Ukrainian Bolshevik Party and state apparatus. Both were increasingly taken over by Ukrainians determined to defend the autonomous rights of their republic. Here, then, was another sort of 'national Bolshevik'. In some ways it was a precursor to Tito's nationalist movement in Yugoslavia against Stalinist supercentralism. As in Russia, most of the new Ukrainian elite was recruited from literate peasant sons mobilized by the war and revolution and eager for progress and social advancement. The result was the rapid Ukraini-anization of the Ukraine's towns, which before the revolution had been dominated by the Russians. Between 1923 and 1926 the proportion of Kiev's population which was Ukrainian increased from 27 per cent to 42 per cent. Closely connected with this was the flourishing of Ukrainian culture during the 1920s, especially after 1924, when Olexander Shumsky, the ex-Borotbist leader, was placed in charge of the republic's cultural affairs. The Ukrainian language, which the tsarist rulers had dismissed as a farmyard dialect, was now recognized as an essential tool for effective propaganda in the countryside and the recruitment of a native elite. During the 1920s it spread its domain into schools and offices, street names and shop signs, Soviet documents and ensignia, party congresses, newspapers and journals. More Ukrainian children learned to read their native language in the 1920s than in the whole of the nineteenth century.89 The nationalist ideal of an independent Ukraine may have been crushed by the new Empire-State, but at least the Ukrainian nation had been given a cultural base.
In the Muslim lands this same pattern — of military conquest by the Reds followed by the fostering of national cultures — was even more marked. In fact here the Bolsheviks did not so much foster existing national cultures as create new nations where only tribal entities had existed before 1917.
In the Bashkir and Tatar regions of the Volga-Urals new republics were created as the Red Army moved across the region pursing Kolchak. Moscow opposed the plans of the pan-Muslim intelligentsia for a Bashkir-Tatar state and ruthlessly exploited the ethnic divisions between the two regions. The Red Army, in alliance with Validov, the military leader of the Bashkir pastoralists, set up the Bashkir Autonomous Republic in March 1919. Most of its population was Tatar. Validov and his troops had defected from the Whites at the height of the fighting on the Eastern Front. He believed that the Reds, unlike Kolchak, would give the Bashkirs independence and the right to expel Russian settlers. But once the conquest of the Urals was completed, the Reds handed power in the region to the Ufa Soviet, which was dominated by Russian workers. Moscow was not prepared to let the vital industries of the Urals region fall into the hands of Bashkir nationalists. In May 1920 it issued a decree abolishing the political autonomy promised to the Bashkirs only fourteen months before: the key institutions of the republic were henceforth to be subordinated to the Moscow authorities. The Bashkir Communists resigned from the government en masse and fled into the Urals, where they joined the other Bashkir rebels against Soviet rule. The new republican government had no Bashkirs in it but was made up of Tatars and Russians. Meanwhile, a separate Tatar Autonomous Republic was also established in May 1920 — although, like the Bashkir one, it was autonomous only in name and not even properly Tatar. Three-quarters of the ethnic Tatars in the region were left outside the republic's borders; and even inside them they made up only half the population, compared to the 40 per cent which were Russian.90 Divide et impera.
Moscow's Tatar strategy was supported, however, by an influential group of Muslim intellectuals, who saw in Bolshevism a chance to advance their own ideal of a secular Islamic nationalism. These were the radical jadids, the bourgeois modernizers of the nineteenth century who opposed the feudal-clerical elites, the qadymists and mullahs. They dominated not only the Tatar professions but also the officer corps of the national units. Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev was their most important theoretician and the leader of the Tatar Republic. In his youth he had been a teacher, a journalist and a jadid. He joined the Bolsheviks in 1917 and rose quickly within Stalin's Commissariat of Nationalities. During the civil war on the Eastern Front, when the Reds badly needed Muslim troops, Sultan-Galiev was allowed to pursue a largely independent line. He established an independent Muslim Communist Party and separate Muslim army units with a special badge in gold and green of the Islamic crescent moon and star. But once Kolchak had been defeated, Moscow began to roll back his powers in an effort to centralize control. This prompted the Tatar to revise his Marxism in the light of what he now saw as a persistent problem of colonialism. The Asians, he argued in a series of articles published in 1919 and 1920, would not be liberated by the socialist revolution in the West, since it was in the interests of the new proletarian rulers to perpetuate the empires they had inherited rather than abolish them. The solution was to unite all the colonial peoples, who were 'proletarians' by virtue of their oppression alone, in a worldwide revolution. This of course echoed the Bolshevik strategy towards Asia, as expressed at the Baku Congress. But Sultan-Galiev did not stop there. He argued that for all the Asian peoples, both under Communism and imperialism, the goals of national unity and liberation were more important than the social revolution. The Muslims in the Russian Empire, for example, were more united by their common Islamic way of life (as opposed to their religion) than they were divided by class antagonisms. This meant that the Bolsheviks should seek to root their regime in the Islamic traditions, while attempting to secularize them and modernize Muslim society. It was a cross between Marx and the jadid.
In 1923 Sultan-Galiev was expelled from the party and briefly imprisoned for his heresy. Yet for much of the 1920s his ideas continued to influence the Bolsheviks' policies towards the Tatars. The Tatar language was modernized and made less scholastic, as the jadids had themselves advocated. This weakened the power of the mullahs and made it easier for the native peasants to learn how to read. Imported Russian words which had crept in under the tsarist policy of Russification were also removed. The Tatar language broadened its domain, entering schools and administration. The native population became better educated and began to enter public office in much larger numbers than under the Tsar. Tatar culture briefly flourished. This, in short, was the start of a national cultural revolution, albeit one that Stalin soon aborted.
Kolchak's defeat also allowed the Reds to complete the conquest of Central Asia. In early 1918 the Russian railway workers and soldiers of Tashkent had established a Turkestan Soviet Republic. But it was cut off from the rest of Russia by the Orenburg Cossacks, who were Kolchak's allies, and its influence was confined to the cities. The cotton-growing regions of the Ferghana Valley were controlled by the native rebels, known as the Basmachis, whose bands united the separate Turkic tribes (Uzbeks, Kirghiz and Tajiks) against the Russian-Soviet regime under the banner of 'Turkestan for the Natives'. Punitive requisitionings from the Muslim population had sparked a dreadful famine during 1918, in which it is estimated that at least a quarter of the population died, and this gave the Basmachis almost universal support in the countryside. Since the divide between town and country was also a political and ethnic division, it was understandable that the Soviet regime was seen as a new form of colonial exploitation; which is largely what it was. When the Red Army arrived in Tashkent at the end of 1919 it set up a special commission to report on the Soviet government. It concluded that it had been dominated by 'colonially nationalistic hanger-on elements' and 'old servants of the tsarist regime' who used 'the camouflage of the class struggle ... to persecute the native population in a most brutal manner'. The tsarist colonial policy of banishing the Kirghiz pastoralists to the infertile regions and settling Russian colonists on the fertile plain had even been intensified. In the Semirechie region the local Soviet had introduced a slave economy, forcing the Kirghiz natives to work without payment on Russian peasant farms or risk execution. The attitude of the Bolshevik leaders in Tashkent towards this had been one of callous indifference. One of the Bolsheviks had been heard to say that the Kirghiz were 'the weakest race from the Marxist point of view and must die out anyway.'91
Under pressure from Lenin, the Tashkent government slowly changed its attitudes after 1920. Land taken from the natives was returned; requisitionings were reduced, and brought to a halt from 1921 under the NEP; bazaars were allowed to reopen; mosques were taken out of Soviet control; and Koranic law, which the Tashkent government had abolished in 1918, was restored for believers. All this helped to quell the Basmachi revolt: by 1923 it had virtually been liquidated and remained only in the isolated eastern mountain regions of Uzbekistan and Tajikstan, where with the aid of the mujahaddin, it continued for several more years. Meanwhile, the Soviet regime pursued its policy of recruiting native elites. Over half the delegates to the Turkestan Party Congress in 1921 were Muslims, many of them from the old secular intelligentsia, or jadid, who saw in the regime a modernizing force. And indeed to a large extent it was. The new republics of Central Asia — Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia and Tajikstan — were all, in a cultural sense at least, built up as modern nations in the 1920s. Vast resources were invested in education at all levels, which greatly improved literacy rates. Special efforts were devoted to the training of a native political and technical elite. There was a boom in native-language publications for the new reading public. Most journalists, it is true, had to be recruited from the Volga Tatars, who were culturally more advanced than the Central Asians but not always conversant with the nuances of the local language. Thus one Uzbek daily, Kyzyl bairak, appeared for a time with the slogan above its title-head: 'Tramps of the World Unite!'92 But such mistakes are bound to happen when a national culture is built up from scratch.
International relations complicated the Soviet conquest of the Caucasus. Turkey and Britain both vied with Russia for domination of this vital region after 1918. The Turks had designs on Azerbaijan, to whose population they were ethnically and linguistically related. They also wanted to keep Armenia weak in order to retain their hold on eastern Anatolia, which they had cleared of its Armenian population through the genocide of 1915. As for the British, they saw in the Caucasus a buffer protecting Persia and India from Russia. It was also rich in manganese and oil, which the British, in their best traditions of colonial piracy, were busily exporting from the Baku oil-fields whilst their troops were stationed there as a 'protective force'. The brief independence of the three Caucasian nations (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) was almost wholly dependent upon the temporary post-war weakness of Russia and Turkey, the traditional powers in the region, and, at least in the case of the last two, the protection of Britain as well. On their own, these nations were much too small and ethnically divided to maintain their independence once Russia and Turkey began to reassert their domination in the region.
Azerbaijan, the first to fall to Soviet Russia, was a typical example of a post-colonial nation ill-prepared for the trials of independent existence amidst all the conflicts of the time. During its brief period of independence, from May 1918 to April 1920, it had no less than five governments. Land reform and ethnic conflict were the main sources of instability. The failure of the Mussavat socialists to push through their land reform against the resistance of the Armenian bourgeoisie enabled the Bolsheviks to pose as the champions of the Muslim rural poor. The economic crisis in Baku, caused by the collapse of its main oil export market in Russia, also gave the Bolsheviks a base of support among the Muslim and Russian unemployed. By February 1920, the Bolshevik Party had 4,000 members in Baku and Tiflis, who were openly agitating in the streets and urging Moscow to send in the troops. The Azeri army was much too weak to put up any serious resistance against the 70,000 troops of the Eleventh Red Army then moving south towards Azerbaijan through the Terek and Dagestan regions. Most of its senior staff, made up of Turks and Georgians, had been infiltrated by the Bolsheviks. But it was Turkey's acquiescence which sealed the conquest of Azerbaijan. By March 1920, when British forces occupied Constantinople, Kemal Ataturk's nationalists were ready to agree to the Soviet take-over of the Caucasus in order to secure Moscow's aid for the Turkish independence movement against Britain. The Caucasus would thus become a channel for the shipment of Soviet weaponry into Turkey. Kemal agreed to start military operations against Armenia to help bring this about. The alliance with Turkey enabled the Reds to win a sizeable fifth column of Turkic-Muslim support in Azerbaijan during their invasion. The Turkish officers of the Azeri army welcomed the northern conquerors, naively believing that they had no intention of ending the independence of Azerbaijan and that their aim was to help the pan-Turk movement. On 28 April the Red Army entered Baku without armed resistance. No one was prepared to defend the Azerbaijan nation. Ord-zhonikidze and Kirov, the leaders of the Caucasian Bureau established by the Central Committee in Moscow to Sovietize the Caucasus, arrived the next day and began a reign of terror. Several leaders of the national government were executed and uprisings in the Azerbaijani countryside were brutally put down.93
Turkey's involvement was equally vital in the Soviet conquest of Armenia. The whole identity of this tiny and embattled nation was defined by its fear and hatred of the Turk. The Dashnak leaders relied upon this to keep the country united in the face of overwhelming difficulties which it confronted after the declaration of Armenian independence in May 1918. The country was overcrowded with refugees from Anatolia who had fled from the Turkish massacres and this placed a huge strain on the economy. Then there were the bitter territorial disputes with Georgia in the north and Azerbaijan over Nakhichevan, Zangezur and the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh.* Unlike its two neighbours, Armenia had no foreign allies. Britain, in particular, supported Azerbaijan against it. It had always preferred to deal with 'gentlemen Turks' than with 'swarthy Christians', as Arnold Toynbee put it in a biting critique of Whitehall's policies.94 Britain, after all, was the greatest colonial power in the Muslim world. Isolated internationally and surrounded by hostile powers, it was perhaps natural for the Dashnaks to appeal to Armenian nationalism. They promised to build a new Armenian Empire stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian. As the first step towards this Armenian forces occupied eastern Anatolia and carried out a series of revenge massacres against the Turkish population. It was a foolish provocation — Kemal's nationalists were bound to fight back — and one can only conclude that the Dashnaks either greatly underestimated Turkish strength or, through their own xenophobia, were temporarily deprived of their senses. Perhaps both.
A war between Turkey and Armenia was just what the Bolsheviks needed. Their own organization in Armenia was minuscule — at the First Party Conference in Erevan only a dozen people turned up — so a Red invasion was not feasible. In May 1920, shortly after the Eleventh Army had occupied Baku, the Bolsheviks in Kars staged a coup in the hope of sparking a Red invasion to help the 'revolutionary masses', but this was easily suppressed and Lenin, who was more concerned with Poland at this stage, instructed Ordzhonikidze to hold off. But six months later, in November 1920, with the Armenians on the brink of a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Turks, Lenin ordered the Reds to march on Erevan. As they did so, the Soviet diplomatic mission in the Armenian capital presented the Dashnak government with an ultimatum to surrender power to a Revolutionary Committee, which was following the Red troops from Azerbaijan. The Dashnaks complied, seeing surrender to the Soviets as a lesser humiliation to defeat by the Turks. They could resist neither. On 29 November the Armenian Soviet Republic was declared. 'Thus one more Soviet Republic,' Ordzhonikidze cabled to Moscow. The Dashnaks entered a coalition with the Bolsheviks but were soon persecuted by their Russian 'allies' and forced into exile, along with many other Armenian nationalists and intellectuals. Meanwhile the Reds carried out a ruthless campaign of requisitioning, carrying off train-loads of food and booty to Russia. The zeal of the new regime was such that
* The Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is still the subject of disputes today, was a summer-pasture ground for the Azeri nomads. Armenia claimed the region in 1918. There were Armenian settlements there, from which many of the nation's leading intellectuals had come, and so, like Mount Ararat, the region became a symbol of Armenia. The Armenian government tried to stop the Azeris from coming into the region by setting up border guards. This resulted in bitter local fighting. Both the Soviets and the British favoured giving Karabakh to the Azeris.
even beehives and barbers' instruments were expropriated in the name of the Friendship of the Peoples.95
The fall of Armenia left Georgia surrounded by the Reds. Of the three Caucasian nations, this was the most viable as an independent state. The Georgians had a clear sense of their own national history and culture, a large native intelligentsia, and in the Mensheviks a genuine national leadership. During its first six months of independence, from May to November 1918, Georgia had the protection of the Germans, and after that of the British. The Menshevik government, led by Noi Zhordaniia, modelled itself on the German Social Democrats, putting statesmanship before social revolution. This was a reverse of the Mensheviks' dogma which had prevented them from taking power in 1917. But with 75 per cent of the vote in the elections to the National Assembly there was simply no other national party.
Land reform was the basis of their power. By breaking up the larger farms and estates, owned increasingly by Armenians, they won the support of the Georgian peasants, who were allowed to buy most of the land at democratic prices. The land reform consecrated the smallholding peasant as the embodiment of the Georgian nation. It forged a synthesis of national and class solidarity — the Georgian peasants and impoverished nobles against the Armenian bourgeoisie — which enabled the Menshevik government to enjoy two years of relative stability.
Only the ethnic minorities, the Ossetians and Abkhazians, with their demands for self-government, caused serious difficulties. Their high-handed treatment by the government in Tiflis, which was not immune to petty chauvinism, gave the Bolsheviks a real base of support. It was here, among the poor tribes of the northern Caucasus, that they built up their military organization for the subversion of independent Georgia. The Ossetian rebels were trained by the Bolsheviks in Vladikavkaz, just across the border in Russia, and sent across the mountains into Georgia. Within Georgia itself, the Bolsheviks had almost no support. The tiny Georgian police force had no difficulty in suppressing the Bolshevik leadership. In May 1920, when the Tiflis Bolsheviks tried to stage a coup to persuade the Eleventh Red Army (then in Baku) to launch an invasion, it was easily put down. Lenin ordered the Reds to pull back from Georgia: troops were needed on the Polish Front and, at least as Lenin later claimed, Georgia was not yet ripe for Sovietization. On 7 May, the Soviet Government signed a treaty with Georgia recognizing its independence and pledging not to interfere in its internal affairs.96
Here the Georgian Mensheviks made a fatal mistake. In a secret clause they agreed to legalize the Bolshevik Party in Georgia. Hundreds of activists were released from jail. No doubt the Mensheviks rationalized this as the price of guaranteeing Georgia's independence. But, as their oldest foes, they should have known better than to trust the Bolsheviks. The Georgian Bolsheviks now became a fifth column of the Red Army based in Baku. Strikes and revolts against the government were planned from the Soviet Embassy in Tiflis with the aim of sparking an invasion. Lenin remained opposed to the military option, favouring a more gradual process of revolutionary subversion. Like Trotsky, he was concerned by the possible reaction of the British and the Germans, with whom the Bolsheviks were hoping to trade, not to mention the reaction of Turkey. The Western Socialist leaders had hailed Georgia as the only truly socialist country in the world. Karl Kautsky and Ramsay MacDonald had made a pilgrimage to Tiflis during 1920 and returned to Europe full of praise. There were also a practical problem. Kamenev, the head of the Red Army, warned that the troops of the Eleventh Red Army were too exhausted for a new offensive. But Ordzhonikidze was impatient for the liberation' of his native Georgia and, without Moscow's knowledge, began to build up troops on the Armenian and Azerbaijani borders. Together with Kirov, the Soviet Ambassador in Tiflis, he pleaded with Lenin for immediate intervention. 'One cannot hope for an internal explosion. Without our help Georgia cannot be Sovietized,' the two men wrote on 2 January. Stalin supported them in another letter two days later. Lenin finally agreed. 'Do not postpone,' he wrote on Stalin's letter.97
On 14 February 1921 the Politburo ordered the invasion to begin. Neither Kamenev nor Trotsky was informed. Against the 100,000 invaders Georgia's tiny army, which had always been more of a symbol than a shield for the nation, stood no chance. It fought bravely for over a week before surrendering Tiflis on the 25th. Taking advantage of Georgia's collapse, Turkey now invaded it from the south-west with the aim of capturing the port of Batum. This prevented the Menshevik leaders from making a last stand in their old rural stronghold of Guria, as they had intended. On 18 March they finally surrendered to the Reds and boarded an Italian ship bound for Europe. The rest of their organization went underground. It remained a dominant presence in the countryside, where it led the uprising that shook the Soviet Republic of Georgia in 1924.
Lenin was aware of the depth of the Mensheviks' popularity in the countryside and was worried that the 'Great Russian chauvinism' displayed by some Bolsheviks during the invasion might turn Georgia into a bed of nails. On 2 March he had written to Ordzhonikidze urging him to pursue 'a special policy of concessions with regard to the Georgian intelligentsia and small merchants'. This was the time when the NEP was introduced. Lenin saw its concessions to peasant agriculture, the free market and foreign trade as essential for the regime in Georgia. But he worried that the Bolsheviks in Ordzhonikidze's Caucasian Bureau were dangerously caught in the old mentalities of War Communism and Russian centralism. The Caucasus, he explained in a letter to the local Bolsheviks on 14 April, was 'even more peasant than Russia' and this required 'more softness, caution and conciliation' in the transition to socialism than in the rest of Russia. Makharadze's wing of the Georgian Party championed the cause of National Bolshevism and, thanks in part to them, some gains were made by the policy of korenizatsiia during the early 1920s. More Georgians entered Soviet office, many of them former Mensheviks. There was a boom of publications in the Georgian language, which began to replace Russian in the public sphere. All this showed that Georgia's subjugation did not have to mean a cultural defeat. In the words of the Georgian poet, Leo Kiacheli, 'the Georgian soul should rule in Georgia'.98
Yet there were still some Bolsheviks who were not even prepared to concede this. It was ironic that the foremost among these were two Georgians, Ordzhonikidze and Stalin, whose own Bolshevism had become mixed in a complex way with a sort of Great Russian chauvinism. The conflict rumbled on beneath the surface until 1922, when it suddenly erupted on to the Moscow scene. But that is the story of Lenin's last struggle.
* * * Brusilov rejoiced in the reformation of the Russian Empire, albeit under the Red Star rather than the Cross. It reconciled him to his own decision to join the Reds and ensured his continued support for them after the war with Poland, when they turned their attention to the Whites in the Crimea. Brusilov was furious with Wrangel for attacking Russia during the war against Poland. It showed, in his view, that the Whites were prepared to betray Russia for their own narrow political ends. Patriotism was Brusilov's main motive for siding with the Reds against these last guardians of the Old Russia. It must have aroused curious emotions; for Brusilov was helping to destroy his own class.
It was fitting that the Whites should make their last stand on the picturesque Crimean peninsula. This Russian riviera, with its palms and cypresses, its vineyards and mountains, had been the playground of the aristocracy, whose summer palaces lined its southern coast. In their noble minds the Crimea was a place of childhood summers, a symbol of the good life in Old Russia, where it was thought the sun would never set. Now, in the summer of 1920, it was the last bit of Russian soil that had not been taken by the Reds. It was the last resort of fallen dukes and generals, of provincial governors and bishops, of landowners without estates, of industrialists without factories, of state officials without appointments, of lawyers without jobs and of actresses without a stage. The bourgeoisie had nowhere else to run to.
At the head of this forlorn cause stood Baron Peter Wrangel, a six-foot scion of the old military aristocracy, who had risen through the elite Imperial Guards. Unlike the 'army man' Denikin, Wrangel was well aware of the need to fight the civil war by political as well as military means. 'It is not by a triumphal march from the Crimea to Moscow that Russia can be freed,' he told his first press conference in April, 'but by the creation — on no matter how small a fragment of Russian soil — of such a Government with such conditions of life that the Russian people now groaning under the Red yoke will inevitably submit to its attractions.' The Whites, Wrangel realized, could never come to power as long as they were seen to be fighting for the restoration of the old regime. They had to pledge their support for radical reforms capable of winning the support of the peasantry, the workers and the national minorities. Wrangel called it 'making leftist policies with rightist hands'."
This was not just an opportunistic response to the weak military position which Wrangel had inherited. It stemmed from a genuine realization that the defeat of Denikin's regime had been brought about as much by its own outdated bureaucratic methods and failure to adapt to the new revolutionary situation as by its military difficulties. But the aim was contradictory: the rightist hands in Wrangel's regime would never make genuine leftist policies and pretending that they would was, in Miliukov's phrase, 'a clumsy attempt to cheat the world with liberal catchwords'. The government and military circles in Sevastopol were filled with figures from the old regime. Krivoshein, the last tsarist Minister of Agriculture, was placed in charge of the interior. His police carried out a massive witch-hunt against suspected 'Bolsheviks', which meant anyone who opposed the regime. Hundreds of liberal journalists and politicians were arrested, while the zemstvo organs were harassed as 'hotbeds of Bolshevik activity'. One zemstvo official complained to Krivoshein — only to be told that 'all the leftists were the same', whether they were Bolsheviks or liberals. Krivo-shein's police force was filled with officials from the old regime who used their positions to reap a savage revenge against the peasantry for 1917, or else make themselves rich through bribes and requisitions. The proximity of the Front, which meant that most of the Crimea was placed under the jurisdiction of military field courts, served as a pretext for this White Terror. Thousands of ordinary peasants and workers were imprisoned, and hundreds shot, as suspected 'spies'. Terror by the soldiers — mainly in the form of looting and pogroms — was a major problem, souring relations with the local population, not least because the White officers tolerated and sometimes even encouraged such actions in order to secure the loyalty of their men. After three years of fighting in the field, the White, or Russian Army, as it was now called, had developed a strong caste spirit. Many of the officers saw themselves as an occupying army in a foreign land, and acted with impunity towards the Crimean population. Rather than acting as a model government to promote the White cause in the rest of Russia, Wrangel's 'rightist hands' did more to advance the Red cause in the Crimea.100
As with Denikin, the land issue was crucial here. Wrangel recognized the need to pass a land reform capable of winning peasant support. 'The question had to be settled for an important psychological reason: we had to tear the enemy's principal weapon of propaganda from him,' the Baron recalled in his memoirs. 'We had to allay the peasants' suspicion that our object in fighting the Reds was no other than to restore the rights of the great landed proprietors and to take reprisals against those who had infringed these rights.' But the committee which Wrangel appointed to draw up the land reform was dominated by such landed interests. The result was a Land Law, passed on 25 May, that still fell far short of the peasant demands. Its basic aim was to create a class of peasant proprietors by giving them a small plot of land as private property. It was another 'wager on the strong'. Like Stolypin's land reforms, it was to be linked to the establishment of a volost-level zemstvo in which the peasants would be dominant. But the law was full of complex regulations which would have taken years to implement; and there were far too many bureaucratic loopholes which allowed the squires to hold on to their land. The district zemstvos, for example, which set the amount of land to be transferred to the peasants, would still be dominated by them. There was also the problem of compensation: the peasants were to pay for the gentry's land by giving them one-fifth of its harvest (in the three-field system this was equivalent to 30 per cent of the annual harvest). After the revolution and the civil war, when the peasant farms had been severely weakened, this would have been a heavy burden, and would have kept the peasant farmers economically dependent on the squires for perhaps a generation — and that had probably been its aim.101
Wrangel's Land Law was a paternalist solution to the peasant question, not a revolutionary one. In the nineteenth century it would have been considered progressive; but after 1917 it was reactionary. It proved that Wrangel's regime was just as caught up as Denikin's in the bureaucratic methods of the past. Nothing better symbolized this than the decision to sell the Land Law for 100 roubles in booklet form (it was assumed that if the peasants had to pay for it, they would value the law more). Compared with the Bolsheviks' simple land decree, which they publicized in millions of leaflets and gave away free to the peasantry, it betrayed a dismal failure to comprehend the propaganda purpose of such laws. Wrangel's regime, like Denikin's, failed to understand that to win the civil war it had to adopt revolutionary methods.102
The price the Whites paid was widespread peasant indifference to their cause and, in the districts nearest the Front, where the burden of food and transport requisitioning was at its heaviest, even outright hostility. It meant they could never recruit enough troops to break out from their Crimean base. Even the wealthy farmers of the Tauride region, the first area the Whites would have to cross on entering the mainland, looked upon us', in the words of one of their officers, 'as an army of old Olympians, titled generals and their cronies, puffed up with pride and arrogance'. The problem was made all the more acute by the fact that the Cossacks, the mainstay of the Whites, were showing growing signs of disaffection, looting the villages and demanding to return to their homelands. According to one officer, the Don Army had become no more than 'a mob of people, who thought only of their own salvation and material welfare, but certainly not of a struggle with the Reds'. The left wing of the Don Krug, now dominated by younger Cossacks from the front-line units, was actively campaigning for a break with the 'reactionary' Wrangel and for peace negotiations with the Bolsheviks, in the naive hope of securing from them a promise of autonomy for the Don.103
To begin with, Wrangel had rejected the idea of an offensive. The British refused to support one and he himself preferred to build up his base on the peninsula. But with the Polish attack on Russia, Wrangel saw his chance. On 6 June he landed troops by boat on the coast of the Azov Sea and during the next few days pushed more land troops north into the Tauride region. This established a bridgehead on the mainland, doubling the size of Wrangel's territory, and gaining in the Tauride a much-needed source of agricultural produce for the swollen population of the Crimea. During August and September Wrangel tried to push north, into the Don and the Kuban. But his forces, hastily conscripted from the Tauride peasants, soon fell apart (it was harvest time) and the Cossacks had to spend most of their energies chasing deserters. By October, with the Polish war completed, the Reds were ready to concentrate on Wrangel. On the 20th they launched their counter-offensive: it took six days for the 130,000 Reds to force the 35,000 Whites back into the Crimea. Makhno's partisans did most of the fighting and took the brunt of the heavy losses on the Red side — for which Trotsky then rewarded them with an order for their capture and execution.104
The Whites held off the Red advance into the Crimea, building fortifications at the Perekop Isthmus, whilst preparing to evacuate. No one had any illusions about their ability to hold out for long and virtually everyone who had any connections with the White movement wanted to get on board the Allied ships. There was a mad rush to buy foreign currency: on 28 October 600,000 roubles would buy £1 in Sevastopol; by I November the rate had risen to one million roubles; and by the 10th, when the embarkation began, to four or even five million. Given the huge numbers of people involved, the evacuation was a model of good planning. There was none of the panic and disorder that had accompanied the evacuation of Denikin's forces from the Kuban in March. The troops retreated in good order, holding off the Reds for long enough for nearly 150,000 refugees to board a fleet of 126 British, French and Russian ships that took them to Constantinople. Wrangel was among the last to embark on 14 November. His ship was suitably called the General Kornilov: the man who had started the White movement took its last leader into exile.105
For Brusilov the defeat of the Whites had a tragic end. Shortly before the evacuation he had been approached by Skliansky, Trotsky's Deputy Commissar for Military Affairs, who claimed that a large number of Wrangel's officers did not want to leave Russia and might be persuaded to defect to the Reds if Brusilov put his name to a declaration offering them an amnesty. Skliansky offered him the command of a new Crimean Army formed from the remnants of Wrangel's forces. Brusilov was attracted by the idea of a purely Russian army made up of patriotic officers. It would enable him to Russify the elite of the Red Army, as he had always set out to do, and possibly to save the lives of many officers. He agreed to Skliansky's proposal and prepared, despite his injured leg, to depart for the Crimea. Three days later he was told the plans had been cancelled: Wrangel's officers, Skliansky told him, had not proved willing to defect after all. Brusilov later found out that this was not true. During the final evacuation at Sevastopol the Reds had distributed — dropping by aeroplane in fact — thousands of leaflets offering an amnesty in Brusilov's name. Hundreds of officers had believed it and stayed behind to surrender to the Reds. All of them were shot.
Five years later Brusilov still found it hard to live with his conscience. In 1925 he wrote in his (as yet unpublished) memoirs:
God and Russia may judge me. The truth I do not know — can I blame myself for this atrocity, if it in fact happened? I have never discovered if it really happened as it was related to me: how true is the story? I only know that this was the first time in my life that I had ever met such fanatical evil and trickery and that I fell into such an unbearably depressed state that, to tell the truth, whoever found themselves in it would find it incomparably easier simply to be shot.
If I was not myself a deeply religious person, I could have simply killed myself. But my belief that every individual is responsible for the consequences of his voluntary and involuntary sins forbad me from doing that. In the revolutionary storm, in the mad chaos, I could not always act logically, foreseeing all the twists of fate: it is possible that I made many mistakes, that I will admit. But I can say with a clear conscience, before God Himself, that I never thought of my own interests, or my own safety, but thought only of my Fatherland.106
Nine months later the old General died.