It is perhaps significant that Lenin’s biggest contribution to modern Russian life is a monument to death. It was, after all, his characteristic answer to most problems.
Lenin’s period of control over Russia (1917-1924) was dominated by war, conflict and the “Red Terror”. It is the thesis of this essay that he considered that conflict as not only inevitable but necessary in the design and construction of the new Communist order. He saw himself as the architect of that new society. The historian Peter Holquist concluded that Lenin did not initiate “genocide” (as –arguably- Stalin did) but rather showed a “ruthless… dedication to social engineering”, in a “radical attempt to eliminate undesirable social groups.” The distinction is finely drawn, perhaps.
We will consider the broad sweep of the “Civil War” before considering various other aspects of the period that illustrate Lenin’s status as “social architect.
In Soviet historiography the period of the Civil War was traditionally been defined as 1918–1921, but it can be argued that in various forms and phases, the war continued throughout Lenin’s period of leadership. In reality, the “Civil War” was a complicated confusion of warring factions that occurred within the former Russian Empire after the Russian provisional government collapsed and the Soviets under the domination of the Bolshevik party assumed power.
The principal fighting, however, occurred between the Bolshevik Red Army, often in temporary alliance with other leftist pro-revolutionary groups, and the forces of the White Army, the loosely-allied anti-Bolshevik forces. Many foreign armies warred against the Red Army, notably the Allied Forces, and many volunteer foreigners fought on both sides of the Russian Civil War. The most intense combat took place from 1918 to 1920. Major military operations ended on 25 October 1922 when the Red Army occupied Vladivostok, previously held by the Provisional Priamur Government. The last enclave of the White Forces was the Ayano-Maysky District on the Pacific coast, where General Anatoly Pepelyayev did not capitulate until 17 June 1923.
Against the backdrop of the “Civil War” there were also various uprisings against Bolshevik control. One of the largest uprisings was the Tambov Rebellion which occurred between 1920 and 1921. The uprising took place in the territories of the modern Tambov Oblast and part of the Voronezh Oblast, less than 300 miles southeast of Moscow. The leader of the rebellion, Pyotr Mikhailovich Tokmakov, was a former officer of the Russian Imperial Army, who had earlier been decorated with the highest military honour, the Order of St. George. In Soviet historiography, the rebellion was dubbed Antonov’s mutiny (or the Antonovschina) although Aleksandr Antonov, a former official of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, was only the Chief of Staff of one of the rebel armies. The movement was later portrayed by the Soviets as a piecemeal anarchical banditry like other anti-Soviet movements who opposed them during this period.
The fledgling communist government also fought a war with the newly independent Poland (1920–1921). In the southern and western provinces of the empire extensive hostilities took place in the former Pale of Settlement, where the Jewish population was concentrated. The Civil War was accompanied by levels of anti-Jewish violence never before witnessed in the Russian Empire and unequalled before the Holocaust.
Every army in the conflict carried out pogroms, but –arguably- only the Red Army operated from a political ideology. Forces comprising the anticommunist Whites and anti-Russian nationalists gained an unsavoury reputation for anti-Semitism. The chief White Army in the area, General A. I. Denikin’s Volunteer Army, was a major perpetrator of pogroms, despite half-hearted efforts on the part of the central command to maintain discipline. Forces loyal to the Directory, the executive of the Ukrainian National Republic, were especially active in carrying out pogroms. Officially, the Directory, led by S. V. Petliura, condemned pogroms, but had little control over the ill-disciplined, irregular forces that fought in its name. Nor did the Directory have much to gain by forcibly repressing pogrom activity among its troops. These forces, often led by self-styled Cossack commanders or Atamans, carried out numerous, well-documented atrocities against the Jewish population. Despite claims that these outrages were ideologically motivated, designed to punish Jewish support for the Bolsheviks, or a reflection of “traditional Ukrainian anti-Semitism,” they appear to have been largely motivated by the desire for plunder. The total number of Jewish fatalities during civil war pogroms is disputed, but certainly exceeded 500,000.
The term “Decossackization” (Raskazachivaniye) is used to describe the Lenin’s’ policy of the systematic elimination of the Cossacks of the Don and the Kuban as social groups. This was but the first example of a Communist decision to “eliminate, exterminate, and deport the population of a whole territory.” Some historians allege that the repressive measures imposed by the Soviets during decossackization constitute genocide. But, as noted, Peter Holquist concluded that decossackization did not constitute an “open-ended program” of genocide but does claim that it shows the Soviet regime’s “dedication to social engineering” and was a “ruthless” and “radical attempt to eliminate undesirable social groups.”
Cossacks were a military estate in pre-revolutionary Russia from the 18th to the early 20th century. They lived mainly in southern Russia in the Don and Kuban areas, as well as parts of Siberia and Central Asia such as Orenburg and Transbaikalia. As a social group they were similar to the Streltsy (professional musketeers) and artillerymen. Because of their military tradition, Cossack forces played an important role in Russia’s wars of the 18th and 19th centuries such as the Crimean War and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, relying on the economic prosperity of the Cossacks, their privileged status as a military estate, and their political conservativsm, the tsarist regime employed them extensively to perform police service and suppress the revolutionary movement, especially in 1905-07.
Following the Russian Revolution, Cossack elites adopted a hostile policy against soviets of workers’ deputies while poorer Cossacks supported the soviets. During the civil war in Russia, Cossacks served both the Red and White armies. Cossack units under the command of P.V. Bakhturov, M.F. Blinov, S.M. Budennyi, B.M. Dumenko, N.D. Kashirin, F.K. Mironov, and others fought in the ranks of the Red Army. One-fifth of all Cossacks under arms served in the Red Army.
Soon after the establishment of Soviet power in Petrograd and other cities in November 1917, conflict broke out between the new Communist regime in Russia and the Cossacks. In the Don territory, Ataman Kaledin declared that he would “offer full support, in close alliance with the governments of the other Cossack hosts” to Kerensky’s forces. Establishing ties with the Ukrainian Central Rada and the Kuban, Terek, and Orenburg hosts, Kaledin sought to overthrow Soviet power and create a counterrevolutionary regime in Russia. On 15 November 1917 Generals Kornilov, Alekseev, and Denikin began to organize the Volunteer Army in Novocherkassk. Imposing martial law, Kaledin moved in late November to eliminate the soviets. On December 15, after a seven day battle, they occupied Rostov. On 7 January 1918, Soviet troops began a coordinated offensive from Gorlovka, Lugansk, and Millerovo. They were supported by uprisings among the workers and Cossacks. On February 25, Bolshevik troops occupied Rostov and Novocherkassk. The remnants of the White Cossacks, headed by Ataman Popov, fled into the Salsk steppes. In mid-March 1919 alone, Cheka forces executed more than 8,000 Cossacks. In each stanitsa, summary judgements were passed by revolutionary courts within minutes, and whole lists of people were condemned to execution for “counterrevolutionary behavior.”
After the German forces invaded and occupied Rostov on May 8, a puppet government headed by General Krasnov was formed in the Don province. In July 1918, the White Cossack forces of General Krasnov launched their first invasion of Tsaritsyn. Soviet forces counterattacked and drove out the White Cossacks by September 7. On September 22, Krasnov’s forces launched a second invasion of Tsaritsyn but by October 25, Krasnov’s forces were thrown back beyond the Don by Soviet troops. On January 1, 1919, Krasnov launched a third invasion of Tsaritsyn. Soviet forces repelled the invasion and forced Krasnov’s forces to withdraw from Tsaritsyn by mid-February 1919. In the period that General Krasnov’s White Cossack forces controlled the Don province, from May 1918 to February 1919, the “All-Great Don Host” sentenced some 25,000 people to death.
The Don region was required by the Soviets to make a grain contribution equal to the total annual production of the area. Almost all Cossacks joined the Green Army or other rebel forces. Together with Baron Wrangel’s troops, they forced the Red Army out of the region in August 1920. After the retaking of the Crimea by Red Army, the Cossacks became victims of the Red Terror. Special commissions in charge of decossackization condemned more than 6,000 people to death in October 1920 alone. The families and often the neighbours of suspected rebels were taken as hostages and sent to concentration camps. According to Martin Latsis who led the Ukrainian Cheka: “Gathered together in a camp near Maikop, the hostages, women, children and old men survive in the most appalling conditions, in the cold and the mud of October… They are dying like flies. The women will do anything to escape death. The soldiers guarding the camp take advantage of this and treat them as prostitutes.”
In November 1920 Feliks Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, reported to Lenin: “the republic has to organize the internment in camps of about 100,000 prisoners from the Southern front and vast masses of people expelled from the rebellious [Cossack] settlements of the Terek, the Kuban, and the Don. Today 403 Cossack men and women aged between 14 and 17 arrived in Oryol for internment in concentration camp. They cannot be accepted as Oryol is already overloaded.”
The Pyatigorsk Cheka organized a “day of Red Terror” to execute 300 people in one day. They ordered local Communist Party organizations to draw up execution lists. According to one of the chekists, “this rather unsatisfactory method led to a great deal of private settling of old scores… In Kislovodsk, for lack of a better idea, it was decided to kill people who were in the hospital.” Many Cossack towns were burned to the ground, and all survivors deported on the orders by Sergo Ordzhonikidze who was head of the Revolutionary Committee of the Northern Caucasus. The files of Sergo Ordzhonikidze include documents which detail such operations. On the 23rd of October he ordered:
1. The Town of Kalinovskaya to be burned.
2. The inhabitants of Ermolovskaya, Romanovskaya, Samachinskaya, and Mikhailovskaya to be driven out of their homes, and the houses and land redistributed among the poor peasants, particularly among the Chechens, who have always shown great respect for Soviet power.
3. All males ages eighteen to fifty from the above-mentioned towns to be gathered into convoys and deported under armed escort to the north, where they will be forced into heavy labour.
4. Women, children, and old people to be driven from their homes, although they are allowed to resettle farther north.
5. All the cattle and goods of the above mentioned towns to be seized.
Three weeks later Ordzhonikidze received a report outlining how the operation was progressing:
Kalinovskaya: town razed and the whole population (4,220) deported or expelled
Ermolovskaya: emptied of all inhabitants (3,218)
Romanovskaya: 1,600 deported, 1,661 awaiting deportation
Samachinskaya: 1,018 deported, 1,900 awaiting deportation
Mikhailovskaya: 600 deported, 2,200 awaiting deportation
The policy was established by a secret resolution of the Bolshevik Party on January 24, 1919, which ordered local branches to “carry out mass terror against wealthy Cossacks, exterminating all of them; carry out merciless mass terror against any and all Cossacks taking part in any way, directly or indirectly, in the struggle against Soviet power.” On February 7 the Southern Front issued its own instructions on how the resolution was to be applied: “The main duty of stanitsa and khutor executive committees is to neutralize the Cossackry through the merciless extirpation of its elite. District and Stanitsa atamans are subject to unconditional elimination, [but] khutor atamans should be subject to execution only in those cases where it can be proved that they actively supported Krasnov’s policies (having organized pacification, conducted mobilization, refused to offer refuge to revolutionary Cossacks or to Red Army men).” The policy of “high decossackization” was cancelled on March 16, 1919 in response to a major revolt against Soviet power in Veshenskaia. The Soviet state focused on the formal elimination of the Cossackry as a monolithic social, juridical, and economic entity. The complete rehabilitation of the Cossacks and the Don Territory came in September 1919. An article in the newspaper of the Army instructed that: “While it is true that a certain portion of the Don Territory’s population is counter-revolutionary for reasons of an economic nature, this is far from the majority. And this entire remaining section of the population could become our ally.” In spite of this, deportations and executions continued well into 1920.
Peter Holquist claims the overall number of executions is difficult to establish, but that they clearly numberd in the thousands, probably exceeding 10,000. In some regions hundreds were executed. In Khoper, the tribunal was very active, with a one-month total of 226 executions. The Tsymlianskaia tribunal oversaw the execution of over 700 people. The Kotel’nikovo tribunal executed 117 in early May and nearly 1,000 overall. Others were not quite as active. The Berezovskaia tribunal made a total of twenty arrests in a community of 13,500 people. One Russian historian provides a comprehensive estimate of executions in the Veshenskaia area: “it is possible, and indeed likely, that the number of those who would have suffered repression would have reached a large figure, but in fact the number at the time of the uprising was around 300.” Holquist concludes that White reports of Red atrocities in the Don were consciously scripted for agitational purposes.. In one example, an insurgent leader reported that 140 were executed in Bokovskaia, but later provided a different account, according to which only eight people in Bokovskaia were sentenced to death, and the authorities did not manage to carry these sentences out. This same historian emphasises he is “not seeking to downplay or dismiss very real executions by the Soviets.” Other historians, among them Orlando Figes[, Donald Rayfield, Alexander Nekrich, R.J. Rummel and Stéphane Courtois, conclude that decossackization amounted to genocide and involved numbers in the hundreds of thousands. University of York Russian specialist Shane O’Rourke states that “ten thousand Cossacks were slaughtered systematically in a few weeks in January 1919” and that this “was one of the main factors which led to the disappearance of the Cossacks as a nation.” The late Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, head of the Presidential Committee for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, notes that “hundreds of thousands of Cossacks were killed.” Historian Robert Gellately claims that “the most reliable estimates indicate that between 300,000 and 500,000 were killed or deported in 1919-20.” This out of a population of around three million. Research by P. Polian from Russia’s Academy of Sciences on the subject of forced migrations in Russia shows that more than 45,000 Cossacks were deported from the Terek province to Ukraine. Their land was distributed among pro-soviet Cossacks and Chechens.
Some Bolsheviks themselves admitted to the genocidal nature of decossackization. Reingold, the president of the Revolutionary Committee of the Don who was entrusted with imposing Bolshevik rule in Cossack territories, stated that in practice “what was carried out instead against the Cossacks was an indiscriminate policy of massive extermination.”
One account of decossackization portrayed the policy as the result of individual excesses by local officials acting against the policy of the central authorities. In June 1919, Lenin sent a telegram condemning the excesses of the tribunals. However, this appears to be contradicted by the discovery of the original secret document giving the order to eliminate the Cossacks found amongst Moscow archives and by the late Soviet historian Dmitri Volkogonov, who asserted that “almost a third of the Cossack population was exterminated on Lenin’s orders.” Peter Holquist also states that the Central government was “fully aware of the tribunal’s activities” and that the tribunals “were showing no compunction about executing people.
Here’s an announcement of the start of the Red Terror on 1 September 1918, to the Bolshevik newspaper, Krasnaya Gazeta “We will turn our hearts into steel, which we will temper in the fire of suffering and the blood of fighters for freedom. We will make our hearts cruel, hard, and immovable, so that no mercy will enter them, and so that they will not quiver at the sight of a sea of enemy blood. We will let loose the floodgates of that sea […] For the blood of Lenin and Uritsky, Zinoviev and Volodarski, let there be floods of the blood of the bourgeois – more blood, as much as possible.”
The Red Terror was claimed to be introduced in reply to White Terror. The stated purpose of this campaign was struggle with counter-revolutionaries considered to be enemies of the people. Many Russian communists openly proclaimed that Red Terror was needed for extermination of entire social groups or former “ruling classes”. Lenin planned the terror in advance. In 1908 he had written of “real, nation-wide terror, which reinvigorates the country”. Communist leader Grigory Zinoviev declared in mid-September of 1918: “To overcome of our enemies we must have our own socialist militarism. We must carry along with us 90 million out of the 100 million of Soviet Russia’s population. As for the rest, we have nothing to say to them. They must be annihilated.”
For many people the major evidence of their guilt was their social status rather than actual deeds. Martin Latsis, chief of the Ukrainian Cheka, explained in the newspaper “Red Terror”: “Do not look in the file of incriminating evidence to see whether or not the accused rose up against the Soviets with arms or words. Ask him instead to which class he belongs, what is his background, his education, his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning and essence of the Red Terror.”
The campaign of mass repressions was officially initiated as retribution for the assassination of Petrograd Cheka leader Moisei Uritsky, and attempted assassination of Vladimir Lenin by Fanya Kaplan on August 30, 1918. While recovering from his wounds, Lenin instructed: “It is necessary – secretly and urgently to prepare the terror” Even before the assassinations, Lenin was sending telegrams “to introduce mass terror” in Nizhny Novgorod in response to a suspected civilian uprising there, and “crush” landowners in Penza who protested, sometimes violently, to requisition of their grain by military detachments.
“Comrades! The kulak uprising in your five districts must be crushed without pity … You must make example of these people. (1) Hang (I mean hang publicly, so that people see it) at least 100 kulaks, rich bastards, and known bloodsuckers. (2) Publish their names. (3) Seize all their grain. (4) Single out the hostages per my instructions in yesterday’s telegram. Do all this so that for miles around people see it all, understand it, tremble, and tell themselves that we are killing the bloodthirsty kulaks and that we will continue to do so … Yours, Lenin. P.S. Find tougher people.”
Five hundred “representatives of overthrown classes” were executed immediately by the Bolshevik communist government after the assassination of Uritsky. The first official announcement of Red Terror, published in Izvestiya, “Appeal to the Working Class” on September 3, 1918 called for the workers to “crush the hydra of counterrevolution with massive terror! … anyone who dares to spread the slightest rumour against the Soviet regime will be arrested immediately and sent to a concentration camp” . This was followed by the decree “On Red Terror”, issued September 5, 1918 by the Cheka. On 15 October, checkist Gleb Bokiy, summing up the officially ended Red Terror, reported that in Petrograd 800 alleged enemies had been shot and another 6,229 imprisoned. Casualties in the first two months were between 10,000 and 15,000 based on lists of summarily executed people published in newspaper “Cheka Weekly” and other official press.
As the civil war progressed, significant numbers of prisoners, suspects and hostages were executed on the basis of their belonging to the “possessing classes” and such numbers are recorded in cities occupied by the Bolsheviks: In Kharkiv there were between 2,000 and 3,000 executions in February-June 1919, and another 1,000-2,000 when the town was taken again in December of that year; in Rostov-on-Don, approximately 1,000 in January 1920; in Odessa, 2,200 in May-August 1919, then 1,500-3,000 between February 1920 and February 1921; in Kyiv, at least 3,000 in February-August 1919; in Ekaterinodar, at least 3,000 between August 1920 and February 1921; In Armavir, a small town in Kuban, between 2,000 and 3,000 in August-October 1920. The list could go on and on.
In the Crimea, Béla Kun, with Lenin’s approval had 50,000 White prisoners of war and civilians summarily executed via shooting or hanging after the defeat of general Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel at the end of 1920. They had been promised amnesty if they would surrender. This is considered one of the largest massacres in the Civil War.
On 16 March 1919, all military detachments of the Cheka were combined in a single body, the Troops for the Internal Defence of the Republic which numbered 200,000 in 1921. These troops policed labor camps, ran the Gulag system, conducted requisitions of food, put down peasant rebellions, riots by workers, and mutinies in the Red Army, which was plagued by desertions
One of the main organizers of the Red Terror for the Bolshevik government was 2nd Grade Army Commissar Yan Karlovich Berzin (1889-1938), whose real name was Kyuzis Peteris. He took part in the October Revolution and afterwards worked in the central apparatus of the Cheka. During the Red Terror, Berzin initiated the system of taking and shooting hostages to stop desertions and other “acts of disloyalty and sabotage”. Chief of a special department of the Latvian Red Army (later the 15th Army), Berzin played a part in the suppression of the Russian sailors’ mutiny at Kronstadt in March 1921. He particularly distinguished himself in the course of the pursuit, capture, and killing of captured sailors.
The Internal Troops of Cheka and the Red Army practiced the terror tactics of taking and executing numerous hostages, often in connection with desertions of forcefully mobilized peasants. It is believed that more than 3 million deserters escaped from the Red Army in 1919 and 1920. Around 500,000 deserters were arrested in 1919 and close to 800,000 in 1920 by Cheka troops and special divisions created to combat desertions. Thousands of deserters were killed, and their families were often taken hostage. According to Lenin’s instructions, “After the expiration of the seven-day deadline for deserters to turn themselves in, punishment must be increased for these incorrigible traitors to the cause of the people. Families and anyone found to be assisting them in any way whatsoever are to be considered as hostages and treated accordingly.”
In September 1918, in only twelve provinces of Russia, 48,735 deserters and 7,325 bandits were arrested, 1,826 were killed and 2,230 were executed. A typical report from a Cheka department stated: “Yaroslavl Province, 23 June 1919. The uprising of deserters in the Petropavlovskaya volost has been put down. The families of the deserters have been taken as hostages. When we started to shoot one person from each family, the Greens began to come out of the woods and surrender. Thirty-four deserters were shot as an example”
During the suppression of the Tambov Rebellion, estimates suggest that around 100,000 peasant rebels and their families were imprisoned or deported and perhaps 15,000 executed.
This campaign marked the beginning of the Gulag, and some scholars have estimated that 70,000 were imprisoned by September, 1921 (this number excludes those in several camps in regions that were in revolt, such as Tambov). Conditions in these camps led to high mortality rates, and there were “repeated massacres.” The Cheka at the Kholmogory camp adopted the practice of drowning bound prisoners in the nearby Dvina river. Occasionally, entire prisons were “emptied” of inmates via mass shootings prior to abandoning a town to White forces.
On 16 March 1919, Cheka stormed the Putilov factory. More than 900 workers who went to a strike were arrested. More than 200 of them were executed without trial during the next few days. Numerous strikes took place in the spring of 1919 in cities of Tula, Orel, Tver, Ivanovo, and Astrakhan. The starving workers sought to obtain food rations matching those of Red Army soldiers. They also demanded the elimination of privileges for Communists, freedom of press, and free elections. All strikes were mercilessly suppressed by Cheka using arrests and executions.
In the city of Astrakhan, the strikers and Red Army soldiers who joined them were loaded onto barges and then thrown by the hundreds into the Volga with stones around their necks. Between 2,000 and 4,000 were shot or drowned from 12 to 14 of March 1919. In addition, the repression also claimed the lives of some 600 to 1,000 bourgeoisie. Recently published archival documents indicate this was the largest massacre of workers by the Bolsheviks before the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion.
However, strikes continued. Lenin was concerned about the tense situation regarding workers in the Ural region. On 29 January 1920, he sent a telegram to Vladimir Smirnov stating “I am surprised that you are taking the matter so lightly, and are not immediately executing large numbers of strikers for the crime of sabotage.” On 6 June 1920, female workers in Tula who refused to work on Sunday were arrested and sent to labour camps. The refusal to work during the weekend was claimed to be a “counter-revolutionary conspiracy formented by Polish spies”. The strikes were eventually stopped after a series of arrests, executions, and the taking of hostages.
At these times, there were numerous reports that Cheka interrogators employed tortures of “scarcely believable barbarity.” At Odessa the Cheka tied White officers to planks and slowly fed them into furnaces or tanks of boiling water; In Kharkov, scalpings and hand-flayings were commonplace: the skin was peeled off victims’ hands to produce “gloves”; The Voronezh Cheka rolled naked people around in barrels studded internally with nails; victims were crucified or stoned to death at Ekaterinoslav; the Cheka at Kremenchug impaled members of the clergy and buried alive rebelling peasants; in Orel, water was poured on naked prisoners bound in the winter streets until they became living ice statues. “In Kiev, cages of rats were fixed to prisoners’ bodies and heated until the rats gnawed their way into the victims’ intestines.”
Executions took place in prison cellars or courtyards, or occasionally on the outskirts of town, during the Red Terror and Russian civil war. After the condemned were stripped of their clothing and other belongings, which were shared among the Cheka executioners, they were either machine-gunned in batches or dispatched individually with a revolver. Those killed in prison were usually shot in the back of the neck as they entered the execution cellar, which became littered with corpses and soaked with blood. Victims killed outside the town were conveyed by lorry, bound and gagged, to their place of execution, where they sometimes were made to dig their own graves.
According to Edvard Radzinsky, “it became a common practice to take a husband hostage and wait for his wife to come and purchase his life with her body” The Pyatigorsk Cheka organized a “day of Red Terror” to execute 300 people in one day. They ordered local Communist Party organizations to draw up execution lists. According to one of the chekists, “this rather unsatisfactory method led to a great deal of private settling of old scores… In Kislovodsk, for lack of a better idea, it was decided to kill people who were in the hospital”.
Members of the clergy were subjected to particularly brutal abuse. According to documents cited by the late Alexander Yakovlev, then head of the Presidential Committee for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, priests, monks and nuns were crucified, thrown into cauldrons of boiling tar, scalped, strangled, given Communion with melted lead and drowned in holes in the ice. An estimated 3,000 were put to death in 1918 alone.
Some historians believe that Red Terror was necessary for Bolsheviks to stay in power because they had no popular support. Bolsheviks received less than one quarter of the vote in elections for the Constituent Assembly held soon after the October Revolution. Massive strikes by Russian workers were “mercilessly” suppressed during the Red Terror.
Robert Conquest concluded that “unprecedented terror must seem necessary to ideologically motivated attempts to transform society massively and speedily, against its natural possibilities.”
Richard Pipes said that despotism and violence were the intrinsic properties of every Communist regime in the world. He also argued that Communist terror follows from Marxism teaching that considers human lives as expendable material for construction of the brighter future society. He cited Marx who once wrote that “The present generation resembles the Jews whom Moses led through the wilderness. It must not only conquer a new world, it must also perish in order to make a room for the people who are fit for a new world”.
Orlando Figes states that the Red Terror was implicit in the regime from the beginning. He notes that Kamenev and his supporters warned that the Bolsheviks would have no other recourse than to rule by terror after “Lenin’s violent seizure of power and his rejection of democracy. … The Bolsheviks were forced to turn increasingly to terror to silence their political critics and subjugate a society they could not control by other means.”
Stalin proved an apt pupil to Lenin. He wrote in the margin of his copy of a book by Marx: “Terror is the quickest way to a new society.” Marx: had written this “There is only one way to shorten and ease the convulsions of the old society and the bloody birth pangs of the new – revolutionary terror”.