Anti-Communist Propaganda And Psychological Warfare

Lenin said:

“…no living person can help taking the side of one class or another…” and “Taken as a whole, the professors of economics are nothing but learned salesmen of the capitalist class, while the professors of philosophy are learned salesmen of the theologians”
(Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism)

What Lenin said about capitalist professors of economics and philosophy, is surely even more true about capitalist historians. Engels put it even more bluntly:

“…the best paid historiography is that which is best falsified for the purposes of the bourgeoisie.”
(Engels, Notes for the “History of Ireland”)

Communists are constantly under a barrage of psychological warfare from the capitalists and their henchmen. On any given historical topic there are countless books about the supposed crimes and atrocities committed by communists. While those books are often lazily researched, have bad evidence or no evidence at all, or can even be deliberately lying, they carry out their purpose. Their purpose is, that when ever someone wants to learn about a given topic related to communism, he is told “the communists are bad”. The sheer amount of anti-communist books on every possible topic, can slowly start to work on even an intelligent and devoted communist.

When one reads book after book, of more and more horrors supposedly caused by communism, it will unavoidable cause the communists to become discouraged, depressed – at least temporarily. The communist might almost start to believe the lies which all these dozens and dozens, thousands and tens of thousands of anti-communist books spread. Then, after hours and hours of research, the communist might find something which reveals the truth about communism, debunks the capitalist lies. For a moment, he is satisfied and comfortable. But the anti-communist psychological bombartment continues relentlessly.

Is it any wonder that so many workers hold anti-communist views? No. Withstanding the anti-communist propaganda bombartment can be extremely difficult, and for a person who hasn’t already learned the truth about marxism it is even more difficult. I grew up being taught to fear communism. And I really did fear it. Even after learning about marxism, it took several years to finally get rid of most of that fear, which was instilled deep inside my psyche, by years of indoctrination. Even after becoming a marxist, I still emotionally and irrationally feared communism. I knew it was the result of lies, but that didn’t make it go away.

Maybe for some other people it was easier, but for me it wasn’t easy. Only very gradually, after discovering more and more, and becoming slowly more and more convinced of the truth of communism, I finally was able to discard that fear.

Researching the history of socialism in Hungary has reminded me of all these things, because I read dozens of books, maybe 30 or 40 about the topic, and the vast majority of them were absolutely virulently anti-communist.

My plan for researching the history of socialism in Hungary was simple:
1) find some books discussing it from a marxist point of view.
2) find maybe two or three non-marxist books on the subject which would be somewhat objective, as neutral as possible, and have lots of sources and evidence.

The first goal was actually very easy. I found some marxist books about Hungary. The second goal proved to be impossible. I didn’t find even a single good history book about Hungary written by a non-communist. Even the best ones, like “Hungary: A Short History” by Norman Stone and “Revolution in Hungary” by Paul E. Zinner were terrible. Some chapters by Stone would have only a small number of sources, and it had insane and unproven slanders against communism all the time. Zinner’s book had more sources, but it was equally dishonest, untrustworthy and often times blatantly lying or badly researched. The other books which I read, were all much worse. Some of them had zero sources, or less then five sources in the whole book, it was common. They all made the same unfounded assertions about important events in Hungarian history.

I could read those books, and always get the same answers, and everytime it was without any good evidence, without citations, or citing one of those terrible books which I had already read, which itself had no evidence or cited yet another terrible book with no evidence. Eventually after hours of research, I could discover the original source for some baseless claim, and it was proved to be lies. But what if I wanted to find out the truth, and not merely discover what was lies? It was extremely difficult, because those books often times contained barely any truth. Even a basic summary of Hungarian history was often distorted almost beyond recognition.

But it began to take its toll. There were times when it made me sad. I read atrocity-story after atrocity-story. “Communist dictators”, “communist murderers”, “bloodthirsty communist tyrants”, “economic disaster caused by communism”, “destruction of culture by communism”. I knew it was lies, but it still made me unhappy to have to read it constantly, book after book. And only occasionally, I would get a small glimpse of truth, some new fact which I could verify and add to my pile of knowledge. I stayed motivated, and sometimes the little discoveries that I made were rewarding.

History is just as partisan as any science. History has a class character like everything. Capitalist society is ruled by capitalist ideology. Those truths were always in my arsenal. But it might be easy to forget those things. One might simply fall into the comfortable fantasy that the historians – taught in capitalist schools, taught by virulent anti-communists, taught based on anti-communist books, restricted by the capitalist academia which decides what gets published and what doesn’t – that those historians, really were telling the simple and “neutral” facts. Life would be so easy then, so comforting. One wouldn’t need to rack one’s brain. Could simply believe the professors, could simply believe the “salesmen” of anti-communism as Lenin said. One might simply fall into that comfortable dream… of class collaboration.

But instead, we have to awaken to the frightening, and unpleasant wakefulness, where the henchmen of the capitalists are always merely serving their class interest, where we can never believe in some “simple” and “neutral” truth, but have to always analyze everything for ourselves, through a firmly proletarian and marxist viewpoint, never lapsing into the fantasy of “neutrality”, but always keeping a proletarian partisan viewpoint. And at every step, the capitalist propagandists try to hinder us, they hide the facts, they spread lies, they falsify, distort, they use fear-propaganda and drive it into our heads daily and for all our lives. And many of them even believe many of their own lies.

When I read a historian or a journalist, and I discover that they are telling lies, deliberately, maliciously, to protect exploitation, to oppress the hard working everyday people of the world, it almost always makes me at least a little unhappy. When I read a historian who uses very colorful well crafted language to describe a situation, his text captures my imagination, I go with the flow of his text, almost beginning to believe him, and then something alerts me, stirs me from the enjoyable activity of reading a well crafted narrative. I stop. I consider. He has written something which cannot be right… or something very biased… I check to see… There is no citation… or the citation is one of the familiar hacks and liars. Another disappointement. More malicious lies! I’m not surprised but I am unhappy.

There is an optimism which comes with marxism, but there is also a sadness. A sadness about the state of the world, and the capitalists use this ruthlessly against us. They want a sad, apathetic mass of people without hope.

We can live in the fantasy-land where the capitalist professors are simply “neutral” and always reliable. It would be easier. No critical thinking is required. Just play video games, drink alcohol, distract yourself. In that kind of life, we are safely kept away from communism by fear and ignorance. “Communism doesn’t work”, “Communism leads to millions of deaths”. Better to stay away from it!
As long as one doesn’t care about the truth, as long as one isn’t too curious! And there are so many products to help take our mind off things…

Stalin said that revisionists are those, who surrender under the pressure of capitalism and capitalist ideology. (Stalin, The Right Deviation in the C.P.S.U.(B.)) A revisionist believes in their heart that it is too hard to fight the capitalists, to resist them. It is easier to capitulate, compromise with them. This is why so many people who consider themselves progressives or even communists, adopt revisionist ideas and believe lies about communism. They are under a constant shower of anti-communist propaganda, it takes determination and hard work to resist it – but we must resist it, we have no choice, the masses, humanity itself, has no other choice.

Lenin said: “a revolution that is more difficult, more tangible, more radical and more decisive than the overthrow of the bourgeoisie,… is a victory… over the habits left as a heritage to the worker and peasant by accursed capitalism.” (Lenin, A Great Beginning)

Should we be surprised about the revisionists and opportunist waverers, the compromisers and those who consider themselves honest and good people, and even progressives, who still parrot anti-communist lies? They collapse into the bourgeois swamp under the weight of all the propaganda, all the conservative attitudes, prejudices and ingrained beliefs which have been drilled into our heads for generations.

In What is to be done? Lenin discusses how there exists a spontaneous working class movement. He says this movement will always be limited in what it can achieve, and it can even turn to strengthen capitalism, because it lacks class consciousness. The spontaneous movement is a product of capitalism, and only class consciousness can help it overcome this. Class consciousness does not arise automatically, but due to hard struggle and study. It is always easier to lapse into spontaneity, to think what everybody else is thinking, to accept the status quo, or if the spontaneous person rejects the status quo, they do it based on the status quo: though its ideas, through false solutions provided by the status quo itself, not through class conscious communism, but through reformism, nationalism, revisionism, utopianism.

Instead of the difficult but correct road of class consciousness it is easy to step into the broad and massive marsh of spontaneity and capitalist ideology, which surrounds us from all sides:
“We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having… chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh!… Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place… Only let go of our hand… for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!”
(Lenin, What is to be done?)

To surrender under pressure from capitalist ideology, to collapse under the weight of capitalist ideas, prejudices and traditions, to become discouraged and pessimistic, to sink into the marsh of spontaneous capitalist trends and beliefs, or even to become a happy and brainless believer in the lies of the capitalist professors, a blissfully ignorant person. Those are all dangers for any worker, for any communist.

But capitalism has no future, and it has no truth, only ignorance, lies and decay, poverty, misery and war, death of culture, stagnation of philosophy, and science being turned against the people.

So let’s keep fighting for a better world for the workers, for humanity itself. Despite all the difficulties the future is ours’. Marx wasn’t wrong when he said “workers have nothing to lose but their chains”, he wasn’t wrong at all. More often then not, those chains are not only physical but intellectual and mental too: chains of lies, chains of ignorance, chains of fear. The truth is that we don’t have anything to lose, only a world to win!


Sources:

Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1908/mec/

Engels, Notes for the “History of Ireland”
https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1870/history-ireland/notes.htm

Stalin, The Right Deviation in the C.P.S.U.(B.) https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1929/04/22.htm

Lenin, A Great Beginning
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/jun/19.htm

Lenin, What Is To Be Done?
https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/

Short critique of Trotskyism

In terms of theory, Trotskyism is a form of revisionism. It tries to change aspects of Marxism-Leninism and replace them with Trotskyism. However, ‘orthodox trotskyists’ (the original type of trotskyists) also agree with Marxism-Leninism on many issues.

Trotsky created only a few new ‘theories’:

  • the idea that Socialism can only be built if it happens in many Western industrial countries at the same time.
  • the idea that the USSR was a “degenerated stalinist state”
  • the idea that workers cannot ally with anti-fascist bourgeoisie or anti-imperialist bourgeoisie

I think all of those ideas are wrong. But like I said, its possible to find some common ground with some Trotskyists.

In terms of its historical role, Trotskyism was anti-communist. Its main goal was to attack and criticize Marxist-Leninist communist parties in all countries, and create propaganda against the Soviet Union. They also collaborated with enemies of the Soviet Union and enemies of communist parties. Sometimes they secretly allied with capitalists and fascists against “stalinist communists”. That is why it was impossible historically for Trotskyists to unite with Marxist-Leninists. Today the situation is a little bit different, as the Soviet Union and “stalinism” no longer exists.

Modern Trotskyists still attack the legacy of the USSR and the legacy of communism. That is a problem. They also advocate incorrect theories. Many (if not most) modern Trotskyist organizations have betrayed orthodox Trotskyism and have accepted worse kinds of revisionist ideas. Some of them defend US imperialism as “spreading democracy” and “overthrowing dictatorships”. Some of them advocate reformism and some of them are basically liberals. But its possible to find some orthodox Trotskyists who can be reasonable, and can agree with Marxist-Leninists on many things. They probably won’t agree about historical events, but they might agree with our modern day tactics and goals.

The “Holodomor” explained

INTRODUCTION

The famine in Ukraine, the so-called “holodomor” was a serious natural disaster. The collectivization of agriculture began in 1928 and the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 seriously threatened the success of collectivization and the entire Five-Year Plan.

The primary reasons for the famine were the weather conditions. There were two serious crop failures in a row (and others before) because of drought and snow which prevented sowings. A plant disease called ‘grain-rust’ also destroyed much of the crops. ‘Rusted’ crops can look normal and so the government didn’t originally recognize that much of the food was ruined. The bulk of this article describes the causes of the famine in detail, based on the research of Mark B. Tauger, Associate Professor of History at West Virginia University, who has published many peer-reviewed scientific papers and articles on these topics.

WHY DID THE COLLECTIVIZATION OF AGRICULTURE TAKE PLACE?

The collectivization began in 1928 because of several reasons:

  • the USSR needed to industrialize to build socialism. Collectivization was necessary in order to grow enough food for a larger industrial proletariat.
  • the USSR needed to industrialize fast, to build a strong modern military to defend itself
  • class relations inside the country had reached a crisis in 1927. The NEP succeeded in rebuilding the economy after the Civil War, but it allowed the rural capitalists (‘kulaks’) to grow stronger. Most small farmers only produced enough food for their own families and didn’t sell food. Most food on the market was produced by large kulaks. They demanded less regulations on prices, and demanded higher prices for higher profits. They controlled the food supply of the cities and could use this to blackmail the government. In 1926-27 the kulaks were refusing to sell or produce food. The government responded by confiscating food which they were hiding. Kulaks responded by destroying food, slaughtering animals, and stopping farming etc.

The Soviet government had two options: to accept the demand for de-regulation and move back to unrestricted capitalism. Or to fight the kulaks and move towards socialism. Of course they chose to fight. It was impossible to accept the kulak demands, it would’ve meant the death of the socialist revolution and the country would’ve remained underdeveloped.

Poor peasants were encouraged to take over lands from kulaks which were not being used, and set up collective farms on those lands. The fight intensified in the countryside and kulaks were able to destroy many farm buildings and kill huge amounts of animals. This contributed to the famine, but was not the main cause of it.

Prof. Mark Tauger has shown conclusively that the Soviets couldn’t have avoided the famine in any way. The weather caused the crops to not grow, and thus they didn’t have enough food regardless of what they did.

Right-Wing propagandists claim that collectivization caused the famine, which is obviously false. We have evidence that the famine was caused by crop failure due to weather, but also the famine ended when the collective farms produced a good harvest. And after that the Soviet Union didn’t have famines anymore, except because of the war.

Some right-wingers also claim that the famine was purposefully orchestrated to kill Ukrainians, but there is no evidence of that. Ukraine received a million tons of food aid from the Russian SSR etc. The famine was a disaster for the Soviet economy, so they would never have caused it on purpose.

TAUGER’S RESEARCH:

WAS THE FAMINE ORCHESTRATED ON PURPOSE?

“A Ukrainian nationalist interpretation holds that the Soviet regime, and specifically Iosif Stalin, intentionally imposed the famine to suppress the nationalist aspirations of Ukraine and Ukrainians; revisionists argue that the leadership imposed the famine to suppress more widespread peasant resistance to collectivization… recent research has cast substantial doubt on them. Several studies and document collections have shown conclusively that the famine did not stop at Ukraine’s borders, but affected rural and urban areas throughout the Soviet Union, and even the military.”
(Prof. Mark B. Tauger, Natural Disaster and Human Actions in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933, p. 2. From now on this article will be cited simply as “Tauger”)

The Soviet government sent several millions of tons of food aid to Ukraine. This was all they had, but not enough. The famine was not caused by any government decision or policy, but by natural disasters which lead to crop-failures:

“The Soviet government did have small reserves of grain, but continually drew these down to allocate food to the population… virtually the entire country experienced shortages of food… the Soviet Union faced a severe shortage, and the most important cause of that shortage has to have been small harvests in 1931 and 1932… Russia itself has endured more than one hundred fifty famines in its thousand years of recorded history, virtually all of which resulted directly from natural disasters, in most cases drought…” (Tauger, p. 7)

“[E]nvironmental disasters… have to be considered among the primary causes of the famine. I argue that capital and labor difficulties were… not as important as these environmental factors, and were in part a result of them… I conclude that it is thus inaccurate to describe the Soviet famine of 1932-1933 as simply an artificial or man-made famine…” (Tauger, p. 8)

In his article “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933” Tauger explains that grain procurement by the government was decreased in 1932 which should’ve left more food in villages assuming that the harvest was alright. But there was famine because the harvest was ruined by natural disasters. Procurement or export weren’t the problem. The narrative that the government supposedly took all the food and left people to die, cannot be supported by evidence.

“The low 1932 harvest worsened severe food shortages already widespread in the Soviet Union at least since 1931 and, despite sharply reduced grain exports, made famine likely if not inevitable in 1933.” (Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

This situation makes it difficult to accept the interpretation of the famine as the result of the 1932 grain procurements and as a conscious act of genocide. The harvest of 1932 essentially made a famine inevitable.” (Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

Anti-communist eye-witnesses are unreliable in any case, but in “Natural Disaster and Human Actions in the Soviet Famine of 1931-1933” Tauger demonstrates that the reason eye-witnesses might’ve claimed the harvest was good, is probably because they didn’t have the expertise to recognize diseased crops on the fields. More of this later in the article.

DROUGHT

The crop-failure was not caused by the Soviet system. In fact other countries at the same time also experienced droughts and famine. However, capitalist-colonialist regimes behaved much more cruelly in these situations:

“The Soviet regime was not unique in this experience: other major agricultural countries in the world also encountered major natural disasters and food crises in the early 1930s. The United States in 1930-1931 endured what was termed “the great southern drought,” which affected twenty-three states from Texas to West Virginia, brought immense suffering and increased mortality, and caused a major political scandal when Herbert Hoover refused to allocate food relief from federal government resources… French colonies in western Africa in 1931-1932 endured a drought, locust infestation, and the worst famine ever recorded there, though the French authorities continued to demand taxes.” (Tauger, pp. 9-10)

Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution was a poor underdeveloped country. As such, it was food insecure and at the mercy of natural disasters and crop failures. To combat droughts, pests, floods and other disasters it would’ve been necessary to build massive irrigation projects, drains, pesticide industries and to improve the soil. Something which the Russian Empire had completely neglected. It fell upon the shoulders of the Soviet government to overcome these challenges.

“Russia itself has endured more than one hundred fifty famines in its thousand years of recorded history, virtually all of which resulted directly from natural disasters, in most cases drought…” (Tauger, p. 7)

“The grain crisis and famine of 1928-1929 were among the main factors that led Soviet leaders… to undertake the collectivization of agriculture. Even in 1930 many regions had unfavorable weather and crop failures… The domestic context of the 1931-1933 famine, therefore, was one of chronic food insecurity. Natural disasters, especially drought alone or in combination with other environmental factors… repeatedly caused crop failures during the early years of the Soviet Union and threatened to revive the food crises and famine of the Civil War period…” (Tauger, p. 9)

Before the famine many grain-growing areas only had 25% of the necessary rain:

“[D]rought played a central role in precipitating the famine crisis… In the main spring-grain maturation period of mid-April to mid-June, precipitation in the southern Urals and Western Siberia was one-fourth of the amount that agronomists there considered necessary for normal plant growth.” (Tauger, p. 11)

“Serious famine conditions in villages and towns in Ukraine by early 1932 required special food relief. The regime admitted the seriousness of this drought publicly, in particular by holding a conference on drought in October 1931 attended by agricultural specialists as well as Sovnarkom chairman Viacheslav Molotov and other high officials. The government also established a meteorological monitoring service and began plans for construction of major irrigation projects along the Volga and in other drought-prone areas. The Central Committee also dispatched seed and food loans to most of the severely affected regions.” (Tauger, p. 12)

Collected grain had to be sent back to the farms, because otherwise they wouldn’t have any seed-grain to sow:

“This was the situation throughout the eastern regions. The Urals oblast’ … had to obtain a seed and provisions loan of 350,000 tons, 45 percent of its procurements. Kazakstan received back 36 percent. Western Siberia 22 percent, Bashkiria 20 percent.” (Tauger, p. 12)

WINTERKILL AND TEMPERATURE FLUCTUATIONS

“Other weather conditions quite distinct from drought affected the 1932 crop. In January 1932 a sudden warm spell in the southern regions of the Soviet Union caused fall-sown crops to start growing, after which winter temperatures returned and killed a portion of the crop. In Ukraine this winterkill destroyed at least 12 percent of fall-sown crops, more than double the long-term average; in one district 62 percent of winter crops failed.” (Tauger, p. 13)

CROP-DISEASES

It may sound paradoxical but despite the early drought and snow which prevented sowing and killed crops, the rest of the year was actually much too humid. Heavy rainfall (as much as triple the normal rain) destroyed crops and the humidity stimulated the spread of plant-diseases, massive growth of the insect population and weeds, which also destroyed crops.

“And most important, despite the regional droughts mentioned above, 1932 was overall a warm and humid year. In several regions heavy rains damaged crops and reduced yields… [there was] heavy rainfall in 1932 which was double or triple the normal amount in many regions. “ (Tauger, pp. 13-14)

“such rainfall encourages the spread of crop diseases. This type of problem chronically affected the Soviet Union… The most important infestation in 1932 came from several varieties of rust, a category of fungi that can infest grains and many other plants…” (Tauger, p. 15)

The most sinister aspect of grain-rust and other such diseases, is that they are hard to detect. Crops can look normal for a long time but be inedible:

“Although in some cases rust will kill grain plants, rusted grain ordinarily will continue to grow, form ears, and in general appear normal; but the grain heads will not “fill,” so that the harvest will seem “light” and consist of small grains, or of fewer normal-sized grains, and disproportionately of husks and other fibrous materials. In other words, a field of wheat (or barley, rye, oats, or other grain, all of which are susceptible to rust) could appear entirely normal and promising, and yet because of the infestation could produce an extremely low yield… Rusts have been the most common and the most destructive infestations of grain crops, and remain so today… In 1935, wheat stem rust caused losses of more than 50 percent in North Dakota and Minnesota…” (Tauger, p. 15)

“In 1932, however, a large epiphytotic of rust, one of the most severe recorded, affected all Eastern Europe… Studies of estates in Germany found losses of 40 to 80 percent of wheat crops, a scale not seen in decades, if ever… In Hungary, a leading specialist described the rust epidemic that year as the worst in generations; additional reports from elsewhere in the Balkans, Czechoslovakia, and Poland referred to “fantastic” losses.” (Tauger, p. 16)

“Identifying rust required specialized knowledge and training… peasants in the North Caucasus could not distinguish between rust and other diseases…This problem was by no means limited to the USSR; a study of wheat growing in Maryland in 1929 found an inverse relation between the condition of the crop and its final yield, because the high rainfall that stimulated plant growth also fostered plant diseases: “A farmer observing a lush stand reported a high condition, not recognizing the development of the disease before harvest time.” The fact that rust was difficult for nonspecialists to detect helps to explain the numerous claims in memoirs and testimonies of a good 1932 harvest Famine survivors in the Volga region whom the Russian historian Viktor Kondrashin interviewed, however, remembered that in the 1932 harvest the ears were somehow “empty,” the characteristic one would expect from rusted grain.” (Tauger, p.17)

“While rust infestations were not a new problem in Russia, the extreme outbreak in 1932 took agronomists by surprise…” (Tauger, p.18)

“Rust was not the only plant disease to affect Soviet agriculture in 1932: large outbreaks of smut also caused substantial losses. Smut spreads through the soil or from contaminated seed, and like rust does not alter greatly the external appearance of the crop… the disease not only destroys grain in infested plants but also easily contaminates healthy grain in the harvest… Smut had been a severe problem in Soviet agriculture during NEP [in the 1920s]. Infestations in many parts of the country in 1922 caused substantial losses, in extreme cases more than 80 percent…” (Tauger, p. 18)

INSECTS AND PESTS

“The warm, humid weather in 1932 also led to severe insect infestations, including locusts, field moths, and other insects on grain and sugar beets… [There was a] failure of winter sowings due to pests and the above-mentioned winterkill in 333 districts in Ukraine, encompassing an area of 747,984 hectares, which inducted 8.6 percent of winter sowings and 10.5 percent of winter wheat.” (Tauger, p. 20)

WEEDS

“Weeds were a major problem through the famine period… The unusually warm and wet weather in 1932 greatly stimulated this weed growth” (Tauger, p. 40)

LACK OF HORSES AND OTHER DRAUGHT ANIMALS

Lack of horses contributed to the famine. The majority of animals were owned by rich peasants (kulaks). Most poor peasants only owned a single horse or cow, and one third of peasants didn’t own any. Because most animals were concentrated in the hands of kulaks, they were able to slaughter large amounts of them as a form of economic warfare. However, the biggest cause for lack of horses was the famine itself:

“Animals were the immediate victims of shortages in 1930-1933 since starving peasants had no choice but to feed themselves first from the dwindling reserves” (Tauger, p. 22)

“By April 1932 30-40 percent of the horses were incapable of work.” (Tauger, p. 24)

It would be a mistake to blame the famine on sabotage by kulaks or by capitalists, but instances of sabotage did occur:

“some 5,000 tractors purchased from the American company “Oliver” had leaking radiators and loud sounds in their mufflers, transmissions, and motors… Allis-Chalmers tractors purchased in 1930 arrived with missing parts.”
(Tauger, p. 24)

The Soviet Union was producing tens of thousands of tractors during 1932 but this was not enough to meet the growing need, due to the unexpected catastrophe.

SOIL EXHAUSTION

Soil science was invented in Russia because of the extreme soil exhaustion in the final period of the Russian Empire. This continued to be a problem for the early USSR especially when it was decided to try to cultivate new lands and increase crop-area. Grain was a priority, so peasants neglected crop-rotation which caused exhaustion of the soil. This was due to ignorance but also due to economic motivators. The government also considered that to solve the grain-shortage this was acceptable for a period of 5 years maximum, but no more. However, already in 1932 the Politburo issued a decree to increase crop-rotation and thus combat soil exhaustion.

“soil exhaustion from repeated sowings of grain in the same fields and lack of crop rotations caused serious declines in yield… This situation reflected a general problem in the Soviet Union: despite its vast size, [due to the Czarist backwardness] the country had surprisingly little good agricultural land; at this time the United States had more land under crops than the Soviet Union.” (Tauger, pp. 38-39)

“[I]n September 1932 the Politburo formed a commission… to raise crop yields and combat weeds. Stalin and Molotov themselves joined this commission, and the result was the decree of 29 September “on measures for raising harvest yields.” This decree ordered that all party, state, and economic organizations focus their work on raising harvest yields “as the central task of agricultural development at the present moment” and specified measures to increase grain sowings at the expense of technical crops and to introduce crop rotations.” (Tauger, p. 46)

PEASANT RESISTANCE?

During collectivization of agriculture the Communists deported many rural capitalists (kulaks) from their land and gave the land to poor and landless peasants. It is often claimed that this “ruined” Russian farming. However, that’s false:

“the common assertion that dekulakization removed the best farmers from farming contains two arguments that are questionable at best… “poor” or “middle” peasants were potentially just as competent farmers as the “kulaks.” Dekulakization, therefore, would not have removed all the best farmers, even if officials applied the policy to remove the “well-off’ farmers.” (Tauger, p. 26)

It is also often claimed that the famine resulted from massive peasant resistance. This is also false:

“Peasant resistance and unwillingness to work in the collective farms are fundamental themes in discussions of the famine and Soviet agriculture generally… My research on Soviet farm labor policies and actual peasant practices and my reading of this literature, however, has made me skeptical of the argument for labor resistance… for peasant resistance to have been sufficient to cause the low 1932 harvest an extremely large number of peasants would have had to act this way… the argument asserts that the majority of peasants attempted to deprive their families and fellow villagers of sufficient food to last until the next harvest. This interpretation, therefore, requires us to believe that most peasants acted against their own and their neighbors’ self-interest. This viewpoint is difficult to accept both on general human terms and particularly when applied to peasants in Russia and Ukraine. The great majority of these peasants had lived for centuries in corporate villages that had instilled certain basic cooperative values, and the kolkhozy perpetuated basic features of these villages.” (Tauger, p. 28)

“Although observers at the time argued, as do some scholars today, that peasant resistance took forms that diminished the harvest, the evidence… leads to a more ambivalent conclusion. Some peasants’ actions clearly indicated that they sought to do as much as possible to save the harvest… in some cases peasants restored kolkhozy (reports referred to cases in the Middle Volga, Nizhnii Novgorod, and Moscow regions)…” (Tauger, p. 33-34)

There was real sabotage committed by kulaks and middle-peasants who had been persuaded by kulaks. This sabotage still wasn’t among the main causes of the famine:

“Only in certain types of actions can we discern a clear, conscious effort to reduce food production… In some cases …[saboteurs] attacked kolkhozniki working in the fields in order to induce them to join with the leavers and divide up the farm… In the Middle Volga, Nizhnii Novgorod, Ivanovo, and Northern regions, arson destroyed thousands of hectares of unharvested grain and hundreds of tons of harvested grain, in addition to hundreds of thousand of hectares of forests, cut timber, housing, and fuel. In some places [saboteurs] attacked officials and other peasants involved in harvest work and destroyed harvest machinery” (Tauger, p. 33-34)

However, there were no real signs of massive peasant resistance. Tauger states that from what we can see: “at least some peasants worked hard, and this situation was not limited to Ukraine.” and other peasants “may not have worked less” (Tauger, p. 36)

In reality, the Soviet government relied on the workers (industrial but also agricultural) and poor and middle peasants:

“the regime’s actions during and after the famine indicated that they did not see the peasants exclusively as enemies. For example, the political departments formed in MTS and sovkhozy in early 1933 to organize farm work during the famine… promoting thousands of peasants… and… relied on the peasants to overcome the crisis. ” (Tauger, p. 49)

In reality, older sources which described alleged peasant resistance may simply have mistaken fallow land as “abandoned by resisting peasants”. Eventually these stories became widespread in anti-communist circles and were repeated constantly:

“[C]ritical observers may have mistaken fallows as abandoned lands.” (Tauger, p. 39)

Peasant resistance was also exaggerated because the government “may have misinterpreted as a protest what may have been simply a farm with more labor than it could employ” (Tauger, p. 36)

REPRESSION?

Anti-communists have claimed that the USSR was only able to “force” peasants to farm during this period due to extreme repression such as punishing those farms who refused to sell excess grain. However, according to Tauger the repression was not quite so severe:

“repressive measures… however, seem to have had limited effects.” (Tauger, p. 37)

Instead of believing in conspiracy theories, it is much more likely that the peasants farmed simply because it was in everybody’s best interest. The collective farm movement was not something completely alien to them, and the movement itself relied on tens of millions of peasants and activists.

DID THE USSR EXPORT FOOD DURING THE FAMINE?

The USSR needed capital to purchase industrial goods, machines and to hire foreign experts. This was part of the Soviet Industrial Revolution, to turn a backward country into a modern industrial country. The Russian Empire also used to expert raw-materials (mainly grain and cotton) because it was a backward agrarian state. The USSR tried to escape this backwardness.

“[T]hat put the Soviet Union under intense pressure to export commodities”
(Tauger, p. 44)

The USSR tried to achieve some level of economic independence but was being squeezed ruthlessly by foreign countries, which forced it to export:

“According to the commercial counselor of the British Embassy in Moscow, writing in late 1931, “failure [by the Soviet government] to meet its obligations would certainly bring disaster in its train. Not only would further credits cease, but all future exports, all Soviet shipping entering foreign ports, all Soviet property already in foreign countries would be liable to seizure to cover sums due. Admission of insolvency would endanger the achievement of all aspirations based on the five-year plan and might indeed imperil the existence of the government itself” (PRO FO 371. 15607 N7648/ 167/38, 6-7). German Chancellor Bruening told a British diplomat in Berlin in early 1932 that if the Soviets “did not meet their bills in some form or other, their credit would be destroyed for good and all” (PRO FO 371 16327 N456/ 158/38).” (Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

It is often claimed that the government supposedly had lots of food, but simply exported all of it. This is a conspiracy theory, and is not based on any reliable evidence.

“The amount of grain exported during the peak of the famine in the first half of 1933, however, approximately 220,000 tons, was small, less than 1 percent of the lowest harvest estimates, and the regime was using virtually all the rest of the available harvest to feed people.” (Tauger, p. 6)

“Total aid to famine regions was more than double exports for the first half of 1933.”
(Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

“The severity and geographical extent of the famine, the sharp decline in exports in 1932-1933, seed requirements, and the chaos in the Soviet Union in these years, all lead to the conclusion that even a complete cessation of exports would not have been enough to prevent famine.” (Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

The fact is that even if all exports had been stopped, it wouldn’t have prevented the famine. However, it would have made industrialization impossible and thus kept the country in poverty, and at risk of future famines. Industrialization was a necessity in order to end famines. If the harvest of 1932 had been successful, as everyone hoped, then there would not have been any famine. However, the USSR at the time was still not industrialized and therefore was to a large extent at the mercy of environmental factors outside of their control.

TAUGER’S CONCLUSION

The [low] harvest of 1932 essentially made a famine inevitable.
(Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933”)

“Any study that asserts that the harvest was not extraordinarily low and that the famine was a political measure intentionally imposed through excessive procurements is clearly based on an insufficient source base and an uncritical approach to the official sources. The evidence cited above demonstrates that the 1932-1933 famine was the result of a genuine shortage, a substantial decline in the availability of food… [The famine was] the result of the largest in a series of natural disasters… it is clear that the small harvests of 1931-1932 created shortages that affected virtually everyone in the country and that the Soviet regime did not have the internal resources to alleviate the crisis.” (Tauger, p. 48)

The famine ended in 1933 when the collective farms produced a successful crop, much larger then ones before. The collective system demonstrated its effectiveness by increasing crop yields continually.

MORE READING:
Holodomor, myth and reality
Blood_Lies by Grover Furr (Best short book to read on the topic)
Fraud, Famine and Fascism by Douglas Tottle
Collectivization and the “Ukrainian holocaust” (from Another View of Stalin)
Famine of 1932 (from “the Real Stalin” series)

The Finnish Communist Revolution (1918) PART 6: THE RED GUARD AND RED ARMY

The working class guards were initially created for numerous different reasons.

When the Russian Tsar was overthrown, the Russian police in Finland was also dismantled. Finland had no police force of its own, and for this reason a so-called People’s Militia was created, to serve as a police force. The militia was an officially recognized government organ, but it was very different in composition from a typical capitalist police. First of all, many police officers who had served under the Tsar were seen as unreliable or treasonous, either by the government itself or by the population and were thus not allowed into the Militia or were later kicked out due to public protest. The purging of the Tsarists from the police force allowed new people to get in. The Militia was thrown together very quickly and spontaneously to fill the need for a police force, and these factors allowed for a very large working class representation in it. In some places which did not have a militia, the workers themselves created outright proletarian militias.

“At first, workers played an important role in the people’s militia. Later the workers’ role in the militias decreased due to opposition from the bourgeoisie and the senate… The militia did not become an organ loyal to the bourgeoisie, in order to guard the interests of its members it even utilized such familiar working class methods as strikes.” (Holodkovski, p.9)

The militias sometimes served as a basis for the future red guards. The biggest reason red guards were created, was to keep order during strikes and protests, especially to protect the workers from white guards who tried to smash strikes or to bring in strike breakers. The parliamentary strategy had failed and therefore workers resorted more and more to direct actions like demonstrations and surrounding government buildings, demanding concessions from the government. In these conflicts the white guard tried to rescue to capitalist politicians and the red guard tried to protect the demonstrators. At that point the red guards were still unarmed.

Historians Suodenjoki and Peltola explain:

“Workers had created red guards and order-keeping forces already in the spring of 1917… The worker guards – similarly to white guards – were not originally intended for war, but for local purposes. The worker guards were a credible voluntary force for keeping order, in localities where such a force did not exist. During the year 1917 guards were created in conjunction with strikes and other conflicts, but even then their purpose was clearly self-defense. [Pertti Haapala, Kun yhteiskunta hajosi. Suomi 1914-1920, pp. 238-240]

The social-democratic party was originally not involved in creating guards. Until the end of the summer the majority of party leadership more likely opposed the creation of guards in their attempt to minimize the spread of unrest. However, more guards were created during the summer and radical revolutionism increased, which forced the party to reconsider the situation. The party had to try to gain control of the guards, which were being created regardless. Since the beginning of September party organizations began taking a more active part in the creation of worker guards.” [Klemettilä, 38-40] (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 237)

“The October [1917] congress of the Finnish Trade-Union Federation, which discussed the food-crisis had a big impact on the creation of worker guards… [A delegate from Tampere] declared that if nothing else works, the food situation must be solved by creating a workers’ dictatorship. Other delegates voiced similar opinions. [Marja-Leena Salkola, Työväenkaartin synty ja kehitys punakaartiksi 1917-18 ennen kansalaissotaa 2, pp. 17, 53]

As a result of the meeting the SAJ [Finnish Trade-Union Federation] sent a demand to the Finnish government on 20. of October, which called for the trade and distribution of food to be handed entirely to the state. It also demanded price controls for food, prices to be set reasonably low to meet the buying power of the consumers, as well as increasing food production and importing… the SAJ leadership encouraged workers to create order-keeping guards “for self-defense and to prepare for any possible situation.” The message from the SAJ was also accepted by the social-democrat party executive committee. This was the first time the leadership of the working class movement publically encouraged the workers to create red guards.” [Salkola, pp. 17-21](Suodenjoki & Peltola, pp. 237-238)

“The reason behind encouraging the creation of worker guards was the worsening food shortage. The working class movement demanded more effective methods from the government to combat the shortage and prepared for general strike, in case the food question could not be solved satisfactorily.

“SAJ’s sharply worded message… activated the workers significantly… Guards were formed in many places where they didn’t previously exist – with the exception of strike-watch forces and other minor order keeping forces. Red guard organisations existed in at least 17 municipalities and at the start of the general strike on 14. of December there were guards in at least 28 municipalities, that is in 4/5 municipalities of Pirkanmaa…

“In Tampere a local order-keeping force which functioned based on when it was needed, had already been created following the February revolution. In May, a more regular “Militia force of the Workers’ organizations of Tampere” was created, which still remained non-military in character. When the party began observing and guiding the creation of red guards… It got the name “Working people’s organization guard of Tampere”. The guard’s structure was formed by trade-union chapters: members were recruited from the best men of the local chapters.” [Pertti Haapala, Tehtaan valossa. Teollistuminen ja työväestön muodostuminen Tampereella 1820-1920. Historiallisia tutkimuksia 133, p. 313, Klemettilä, Salkola pp. 128-134] (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 238)

“…in the rules adopted for worker guard organizations on October 23. their mission was defined as protecting the rights of workers – it was felt that workers… needed guards for their safety, since the bourgeoisie was creating its own white guard forces to safeguard its interests. [Source: Salkola, pp. 33, 37-45]

In some municipalities of Pirkanmaa creation of worker guard organizations was clearly a reaction to the bourgeoisie creating white guards. For example in Orivesi and Hämeenkyrö the workers explained the reason they needed a red guard force was due to the presence of the white guard. It is worth noting that in 2/3 of the municipalities in Pirkanmaa the white guard was certainly formed before the worker guard.” [Salkola, pp. 312-313, 532-533] (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 239)

The people’s militia was merged with the red guard in many places, beginning with the December 1917 general strike. An order from red guard leadership read:
“Keeping order is one of the duties of the workers’ guard; the workers’ militia will join the guard.” (quoted in Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 105)

A number of different stages can be seen in red guard formation: 1. the public militia, 2. then the stage of creating purely proletarian order-keeping forces, 3. the creation of red guards for local self-defense, local strikes and demonstrations, 4. the party and trade-union federation getting involved and guards being formed nationwide in a centrally coordinated way, 5. and finally the red guards becoming a military force.

“In many places the guards were created by local workers’ societies. Social-democratic municipal organizations also often served as the founders. [Salkola, p. 68] Trade-union chapters did this rarely… because they were strongest in large cities where guards were already formed earlier. Passivity of trade-union chapters is also explained by the fact that… municipal organizations and workers’ societies… were the highest local organs, they naturally took responsibility for creating guard organizations. In some cases other types of worker organizations also created guards.

Selection of applicants to the guard was often done in meetings of worker organizations. All volunteers were not necessarily accepted.” (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 241)

“According to the rules of workers’ order-keeping guards, only organized workers were to be accepted as members. This happened naturally, as recruits were chosen by workers’ societies and trade-union chapters from their own members. The rules also required that recruits had to be “class conscious, knowledgeable about social-democratic methods and otherwise trustworthy comrades.” (Suodenjoki & Peltola, pp. 241-242)

ORGANIZATION AND STRUCTURE OF THE RED GUARD ARMY:

A military history website explains the organization of the red army as follows:

“Organisation used by Finnish Red Guards was basically borrowed from Battalions from Army of Finnish Grand Duchy, which existed pre year 1900. Red Guard organisation had also battalion – division levels, but in reality its companies fought as independent companies, not as battalions or regiments… In reality the size of Red Guard company varied in between 70 – 150 men.” (Source: https://www.jaegerplatoon.net/FORMATIONS1.htm)

The typical structure was given as the following: A Red Guard rifle company was lead by a company commander and a commissar directly below him, the company was divided into 4 platoons, each lead by a platoon leader, with 2 rifle squads of a dozen men under him.

The structure for a machine gun company is given as the following: A company commander and a commissar, with 3 machinegun platoons under them, 4 machineguns per platoon.


The full army structure was this: 4 companies formed a battalion, 4 battalions a regiment, 2 regiments a brigade and 2 brigades a division. However, the Red Guard typically fought as separate companies (several hundred soldiers) or some times as Battalions (thousand soldiers or even more) but coordinating operations larger then this was practically never done. The larger units served as a command structure and for moving troops around, but had no significance in battle.

Source: https://www.jaegerplatoon.net/FORMATIONS1.htm

Historians corraborate this information, as roughly being true, but there were local differences.

“The most important basic military unit was a company, whose strength was 110 men (2+4+8+96). The company was divided into four platoons, and each platoon consisted of 27 men (1+2+24). However in reality, many companies did not follow these quantities but were lacking. Local units in the rural areas could vary from a few men to hundreds in size. On top of that there were special companies (e.g. machine gun, flying and artillery companies). For example in Virkkala, the flying A-company consisted only of a single platoon (27 men).” (Koskinen, s.61)

“The strength of the guard in Tampere [in late 1917] was apparently around couple thousand. It included three actual battalions and a shorthanded railway workers’ battalion, which were all organized into a regiment a little before the general strike [of December 1917]. On top of that, a few special units were formed in connection with the Tampere guard, such as an espionage and intelligence unit, an orchestra and an ambulance unit. Around October-December a “Workers order-keeping guard’s women’s organizations” was created for the guard’s medical care, which tried to recruit members e.g. through newspaper notices.[Klemettilä, pp. 44-47] In the surrounding municipalities at least in Virrat the guard included a women’s organization.” [Salkola, Työväenkaartin synty ja kehitys punakaartiksi 1917-18 ennen kansalaissotaa 2, p. 76](Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 242)

In Helsinki the red guard also formed several so-called naval companies from sailors, “for the purpose of acquiring ships for the use of the red guard, and for coastal defense” (Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 169)

In practice squads of about dozen men formed platoons, which formed companies of around 100 or 200 soldiers. Companies formed battalions which could be almost a 1000 soldiers. They in turn formed regiments of thousands. Capitalist historian Upton writes:

“On paper, the organization of the Red Guard looked like that of a normal army; the men were enlisted in companies of 96 men, four of these formed a battalion, and four battalions a regiment. Thus Helsinki Red Guard began as two regiments in January, and then added three more by the end of March. Viipuri raised 131 companies, all based on workplaces or villages, which formed nine regiments; Tampere, Turku, and Lahti all raised regiments. But the regiments and the battalions were administrative and record-keeping structures; the fighting unit was the company. Only on rare occasions is a battalion found operating as a fighting force. The Red Guard was therefore an army that consisted of hundreds of largely self-governing companies, of very uneven quality and size, and any effective operational orders had to be directed to the company level.”
(Upton, pp. 404-405)

“a genuine comradely spirit did exist, a sense of loyalty to mates, to class and to the cause, which held the Red Guard together in the absence of the usual military sanctions. But it was not always enough.” (Upton, p. 407)

The Red Guard army was under the leadership of the Workers’ Executive Committee, the highest revolutionary authority. The Red Guard had a national general staff, regional staff and local staff. The general staff near front-lines were called “front staff”.


“In many places guard staff was created already weeks before the class war… They carried out various administrative tasks… Though it had been originally planned that they would serve some kind of militaristic functions, their real work turned out completely differently: the original guard staffs became sort of civillian bureaus, committees and for military purposes new committees emerged: the front staffs…” (Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 163)

The regional front staffs commanded entire army groups, and although the structure fluctuated all the time, there were three army groups and basically three main fronts: so called “Northern Front” near Tampere, “Central Front” around Savonia and “Eastern Front” around Karelia.

“[Front] staffs were chosen via heads of detachments choosing a leader, and one or two assistant leaders, a commander of artillery, commander of machine guns, reconnoisance, food and housing etc… front commanders were appointed by the national general staff.” (Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 167)

A red guard on the central front explained their command structure as follows:

“The front staff divided its work in the following way: a) war department, b) finance department, c) munitions committee, d) medical department. The war department was split into four parts: 1) Leadership made assault and defense plans, troop movements and maneuvers with the commander. 2) The equipment officer handled acquiring ammunition and other war materials and delivering them to the front… 3) The cartographer prepared battle maps. 4) Rapporteur was tasked to gather reports arriving from different fronts and to unite them to a coherent whole, as well as prepare and deliver all messages from the war department.” (Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 117)

A red guard on the Eastern front said: “The leaders were elected in mass meetings of soldiers, all the way up to the highest commanders and commanders were changed quite often” (Punakaarti Rintamalla, p. 197)

Local command was typically 5 or 6 people, about half chosen by party organizations and half by the soldiers:

“According to rules the local guard leadership consisted of a five member executive committee. Three members were chosen by the local worker organization delegate assembly [a soviet], social-democratic municipal organization or workers’ society, while the red guard members chose two. In many municipalities the local guard leadership was chosen in this way but not nearly everywhere.[Salkola, Työväenkaartin synty ja kehitys punakaartiksi 1917-18 ennen kansalaissotaa 2, pp. 82-84] For example in Tampere the leadership… which was referred to as central command, included six members. Three had been chosen by the municipal organization, three by the guard members. This was done to insure the guard members had equal influence with the municipal organization.

“According to the guard’s rules, officers were elected by the members. This reflected the guard’s character as originally a non-military organization, familiar methods from working class movement were adopted into their work.”[Klemettilä, p. 46-47] (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 242)

A massive book about the civil war by the Finnish ministry of education states:

“The red guard’s organization already existed before the outbreak of war. At the top there was the national general staff, and under it regional and local staffs.”
(Kansanvaltuuskunta punaisen Suomen hallituksena, Osmo Rinta-Tassi, p.188)

That was the original situation. However, as we saw from other sources, to handle actual fighting separate front general staffs were established.

The book by the Finnish ministry of education further states that “The organization of the top military leadership only properly got going in March, when the strategic position of the reds was already weakening.” and “Separation of civillian and military administration advocated… was completed only as late as 20th of March [after it] had been prepared for over a month”. This only goes to show the challenges the reds faced, because they were relatively less prepared for the war then the whites and were amateurs in military matters.

The structure of the red state, consisted of amauters: average workers and peasants, not professional bureaucrats. Their military was really a paramilitary, based on volunteers with no training. As a result the structure and methods of the red guard varied from place to place, there was a lot of confusion about which institution should do what, often times military organizations like the red guard, were forced to carry out purely civillian tasks and even in military matters they acted in very non-military ways. They elected their officers, shared power between red guards and civillian organizations and in many ways behaved exactly like trade-union organizations with guns, rather then a professional army.

“The term “staff” is rather misleading because of its military connotations, since most of these committees had nothing to do with military operations, but were concerned with organization and record-keeping at the rear. They were responsible for internal security, which involved organizing guards and patrols, and making searches and arrests, but these quasi-military functions were really police duties. The civilian character of most staffs was reflected in their membership, which tended

to consist of the older party members, and the mountains of paper that they have left behind them show that they were mainly occupied in calculating pay, distributing food and clothing, arranging accommodation, and issuing endless permits and certificates. The term staff was also misleading because these bodies did not see themselves as the sources of executive authority, but as delegate bodies, elected by and responsible to the mass membership, so that all major decisions had to be referred to general meetings… When companies were brought together for operations, the commanders and their staffs would elect delegates to form a Front Staff, which actually directed military operations…” (Upton, p. 408)

“The red guard consisted of workers and the rural poor.”
“It naturally did not include any bank directors, large landowners, shop-owners etc… 65.63% or two thirds of reds who fell in battle were workers and farm-laborers. With house servants and temp workers included the number is 77.96%. Among whites who fell in battle there were only 17% workers, but there were 45.38% land-owning peasants. The white army also included other members of the wealthier classes – employers etc. Among reds who fell in battle only 5.36% owned their own plot of land. [V. Rasila, Kansalaissodan sosiaalinen tausta, pp. 40-41]” (Holodkovski, p.308)

“Soldier material on the red side was from a military and class standpoints undoubtedly more homogenous then on the white side and there was enough of it voluntarily available. The working population of cities and industrial centers, including its skilled sections, who because of the influence of the working class movement had become used to solid organization and discipline, was ready to step voluntarily into the ranks of the red guard. The agricultural workers and tenant farmers were also voluntarily on the side of the reds.

The red military leadership on the otherhand could not even be compared to the white leadership. After all, military training had not been available in Finland for decades. Learning to use even basic weapons took time, and there were no teachers. The reds had only one officer at their disposal, Russian officer colonel Svetsnikov… the red military leadership practically developed entirely during battle.

The number of soldiers in red guards rose up to 20-30 thousand during the beginning of the civil war. Initially there were insufficient weapons. Enough weapons could be given to frontline troops only after fighting had already begun.

The exact number of fighers in the red guard is not known. At its peak the number was around 70-80 thousand.

While the white forces had already been organized into typical military structure and a hierarchy had been created down to local divisions and squads by the time the battles began, the red guards on the other hand were born out of the members of workplaces or workers’ organizations. Thus, companies could form from the workers of some workplace, or some organization would form its own company, well known were e.g. the company of the Jyry [working class] sports club. Rural workers’ associations formed their own red guard detachments, and often those in the same municipality would form a detachment. This was a natural starting point for the founding of a voluntary class army. Its advantage was the sense of tightly-knit unity in the detachments – after all, everyone knew each other. Leaders were chosen from those people who already enjoyed the men’s trust based on their previous activities. On the other hand, when creating larger army units and when troops were moved away from their homes, the local nature of the units hindered their utilization for broader tasks. The defense of one’s own home was seen as more important, often times people waited for instructions from the command at their home municipality etc. But as the battles went on the red guards formed a comparatively solid foundation for a united army. Military experience was learned in practice and the officer core also grew, so that in a few months the Finnish workers’ red guard could already successfully perform even difficult tasks.” (Hyvönen, pp. 92, 94-95)

WHY DID PEOPLE JOIN THE RED GUARD?

The working class and poor peasantry of Finland joined the Red Guards to fight for their rights. The capitalist government was not willing to grant the workers’ demands, and instead had escalated the situation towards civil war. The workers had only two options: to fight for a better future, or to surrender and live in misery.

The old propaganda narrative of the capitalists, was that people supposedly only joined the Reds, due to communist agitation. However, this has proven to be a lie. The people lived in terrible poverty, had a real threat of starvation, and no political rights. They knew these facts from their own lives, not from the mouths of agitators.

After these capitalist lies were debunked, liberal historians have tried to look for real answers to the question why the workers joined the Red Guards. Let’s look at the answers they provide. One historian from 1998 writes the following:

“… in the entire country, the economic situation was bad, unemployment was high and there was a shortage of food. Poverty and unemployment forced many to consider joining the red guard. In interrogations after the war, when the winning [capitalist] side asked the prisoners’ reasons for joining, this explanation was emphasized. After all, it was a neutral reason for joining. For this reason the significance of unemployment for joining was surely exaggerated.”
(Koskinen p. 63)

He concludes that economic conditions were indeed terrible, people lived in poverty, and there wasn’t enough food. But he also admits, that when questioned by Whites, the workers and peasants naturally would not want to admit to being socialists. They would much rather give more politically neutral reasons. Of course the two questions are interconnected, the workers supported socialism precisely because life in capitalism was so bad for them. But while they could admit that their poverty was bad, admitting that they were socialists usually would lead to their deaths.

So, poverty and unemployment were the most commonly given reasons: “I was forced by poverty”, “I joined for bread”, “I joined since there were no jobs or food”. (Koskinen)

However, it seems clear workers also did not make the decision to join the Red Guard as individuals. They had a sense of community. Though joining the Red Guards was not mandatory, and indeed, only organized workers were even allowed to join, still there probably was some peer-pressure. Many workers considered it obvious to join the Red Guard:

J.E.Palonen: “I joined because everyone else joined”

G.V.Solberg: “There was no particular reason. It was just the general opinion that everyone should belong to the RG [Red guard]”

A.Vilen: “Joined because others joined too and it was said there were no jobs besides the red guard”

K.E.D. Nyberg: “I joined because people looked at you funny if you didn’t join, and because work was stopped at the factory”

“However, many reasons become intertwined and a person makes the decision often without even understanding all the factors. Economic, ideological, psychological or physical pressures blend together.” (Koskinen p. 64)

One worker testified:
“While working as a carpenter in the cement factory shipyard on 5. of February four armed men showed up and said all organized workers had to come to the workers’ club… and others join the guard as soldiers. Admits: joining was partially voluntary and partially necessitated by economic reasons…” (Koskinen p. 64)

“There weren’t many red guards who openly spoke about their ideological views when interrogated [by whites] after the war:
Villehard Virtanen: “Saw the guard’s function as keeping order and wanted to help”
Fredrik-Malin: “Joined to improve workers’ conditions by his own initiative”

Fredrik-Malmstedt: “Joined due to sense of duty and opinion” (Koskinen p. 64)

“At the outbreak of war the membership of the red guard was selectively chosen and in principle voluntary. Membership was only open to members of workers’ organizations.” (Koskinen p. 65)

Another liberal historian writes:”In a factory town like Nokia, it was almost impossible for a factory worker to not join the red guard. The work community had a strong social pressure: joining the guard did not mean taking a strong political stance, instead it was normal to join together with everyone else. Due to its large factories and strong workers’ organizations it was possible in Nokia to recruit large amounts of people to the guard. Recruiting happened largely from trade-union chapters. Almost all of the guard members of Nokia were factory workers or other workers. On top of ideology, especially unemployed people might join because of the wage paid to red guard members.” [Jussi Koivuniemi, Tehtaan pillin tahdissa. Nokian tehdasyhdyskunnan sosiaalinen järjestys 1870-1939] (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 241)

“In the treason trials after the war, ex-guard members understandably didn’t want to admit joining the guard voluntarily for ideological reasons. The accused rather justified joining with economic motives: by joining the guard one could get help in surviving the economic difficulties, unemployement and food shortage. Guard members were given a good 15 mark daily wage, a meal and support for their family. This must have impacted at least the youth and unemployed membership…

In the interrogations many ex-guard members also said they had been pressured, for example instructions coming from the trade-union. Beginning in March [when the city was encircled and sieged by the whites] there was also pressure at work sites in the city: men were demanded to join or risk being fired, which lead to the membership increasing. At the end of March the demand to join was extended to all men between ages 18 and 50 living in the city.” (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 257, citing Klemettilä)

“Although the Red Guard was both a voluntary and a selective force, and would enlist only organized workers, the initial enthusiasm produced an ample flow of recruits. Recruitment was usually a group decision by a trade union branch or the village workers’ organization, so that many early Red Guard units were simply identified by the trade or workplace of the members.” (Upton, p. 396)

“To the Finnish workers, whose womenfolk commonly labored with them in factory and field, it came naturally to recruit women as well. Women sometimes formed a significant proportion of the membership, as in Tampere, where there were 901 women against 5,094 men; and some of them got into the firing line, to the horror and disgust of the Whites.” (Upton, p. 397)

Unlike the whites, the red government never had a policy of conscription or forcing people to join the red guard. This is another example of the social-democrats’ commitment to only pursue policies democratically, legally and based on voluntary action. The whites increased their army from 10-20 thousand to 70-80 thousand through forced conscription. The reds built a largely volunteer army of the same size (80 thousand). With conscription they could have outnumbered the whites, however the reds never took firm action to implement conscription.

“The population fleeing from the municipality of Virrat intensified after the outbreak of the war, when the whites implemented conscription. The amount of people avoiding the draft was highest in Virtainkylä, 123 men, 107 in Toisvesi and 83 in Vaskivesi… Tens of people fleeing from Virrat fought in the “Wirrat company” which included a total of 300 reds from Virrat… One quarter of the guard members didn’t belong to workers’ associations at all… reason for joining seems to have been to avoid being conscripted [by the whites]. [Nieminen Jaana, Kansallisesta jakautumisesta kunnalliseen eheytymiseen: vuoden 1918 sota Virroilla]”(Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 263)

Near the end of the war, it was becoming clear that the whites had gained the upper hand. This prompted the red government to take stronger actions. The extent of this was still not conscription. The government only ordered those people who had voluntarily joined the red guard and then left, to rejoin. There were individual cases of local reds pressuring others to join, but this was never a policy.

The reds also considered a plan to recruit those working in unemployment relief-jobs to the red guard, but this was never done except by the city of Tampere during the siege and encirclement. Kuusinen later criticized the red government’s policy for not making it mandatory for unemployed people and especially capitalists, intellectuals and members of the non-working classes to join work-programmes. There should have been an all out responsibility for everyone not serving in the red guard, to work in order to support the war effort. This wasn’t done. Instead capitalists and aristocrats were often left to sit inside their homes, and in several cases, they conducted spying activity on behalf of the whites.

“For example the property owner Arvo Mattila from Southern-Teisko provided information to the whites. He wired his telephone to the telephone line between Kuru and Southern-Teisko and listened to the red’s telephone conversations in his house.[Laitinen Erkki, Kurun historia 1867-1918, Vanhan Ruoveden historia III:5,1]” (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 260)

The red guard had a reconnoisance division, but there was no secret police or intelligence service to combat spies. The Russian Bolsheviks and Ukrainian Anarchists had a secret police to combat spying and sabotage, but the Finnish reds didn’t realize the necessity of such a thing.

Upton says:
“The Red government was almost unique among revolutionary governments in never establishing its own political or secret police.” (Upton, The Finnish Revolution 1917-1918, p. 374)

In general the red guard’s activities were characterized by extremely anti-authoritarian policies and measures to the point of detriment.

“Altogether in the first weeks of the war 150 white guards were arrested in the city [of Tampere], but in most cases they were simply let go. The city’s red guard was mainly concerned with confiscating weapons. [Vainio Marko, Yksi opisto – yksi liike. Tampereen teknillisen opiston suojeluskuntakomppania Tampereen suojeluskunnan osana 1917-1918, p. 94]” (Suodenjoki & Peltola, p. 260)


SPYING AND COUNTER-ESPIONAGE

The Reds didn’t have a secret police, but lets discuss the type of reconnaissance and counter-espionage units that they actually did have. A red guard author writes:

“There were two types of reconnaissance divisions, one front-line and the other so-called local divisions. Tampere had both of these. One was called the Northern Front Spy Department, which practiced front-line espionage on the enemy side, and the other was the Tampere Intelligence Department… Before the actual battles, they were tasked with keeping an eye on the enemy’s movements and combat preparations, trying to find out their weapons depots and secret training places, generally to find out what is going on among the counter-revolutionaries… The department also arrested individuals from whom weapons were found or who otherwise acted as counter-revolutionaries.

After general mobilization, the duties of the intelligence department also expanded to include operations throughout the North-West. In this area, it had the right to conduct home inspections, confiscations, and arrests. These measures were assisted by local Red Guards and all the captured whites and other criminals were transported to Tampere, where the intelligence department carried out a preliminary investigation. The resulting protocols were to be sent to the Revolutionary Court, which finally convicted or acquitted the accused. Indeed, in several cases, the verdict was acquittal, even for persons who would have deserved nothing more than to stand in front of a line of rifles. Often, the sentences were such as to be banned from leaving the area and ordered to report to the intelligence department office, some every day, some once a week.

Afterwards, it seems ridiculous that such sentences were given during a revolution, but that is how it was. Those people were thus given full freedom to continue to act as counter-revolutionaries, and this leniency was also one of the factors in our defeat … as far as Tampere was concerned, only two death sentences were given, and the people in question were in the red guard. One was the commander of the Ikaalinen front, Seppälä, who was accused of selling out his troops. It was proved that he had received 40,000 marks for organizing his troops in such a way that the whites had a favorable opportunity to attack … The other was named Anthoon, he was an interpreter for the front staff of the Northern Front, and an enemy agent. He passed all the information he received from the staff to the whites.” (A. R–n., “Punaisten tiedustelutoiminnasta”, Suomen luokkasota: Historiaa ja muistelmia)

British capitalist historian Upton writes:

“The possibility of repression was much reduced because the Red regime had no political or security police… Red security measures were simply incompetent:

[white politician] Louhivuori [who was hiding in a hospital as a patient] was able to go into town, accompanied by a nurse, and conferred with Svinhufvud on three separate occasions. He remembered a house in view of the hospital and of the Red Guard checkpoint outside, which had a stream of young visitors carrying violin cases. “One could observe that what they were carrying was

extremely heavy”; in fact they were smuggling arms into a White Guard magazine and strongpoint… The Whites made brilliant use of telephone monitoring, using friendly telephone staff… The most vulnerable point in White security was the domestic servants, on whom they were wholly dependent… there must have been significant numbers of disaffected servants who could have been used to monitor what went on in bourgeois households, but no effort was made to tap this obvious source. [VA [State Archive], 35-39; Räikkönen, Svinhufvud ja itsenaisyyssenaatti, 298fll., 311; Työmies, 28.3.18.]

In these conditions the White resistance could operate with some impunity. The medical profession abused its immunity to conceal fugitives or provide safe transport in ambulances or under the escort of medical personnel; the foreign consuls, who were usually native businessmen, used their consular status in partisan fashion to claim diplomatic immunity for their premises and communications. [Vyborg] Red Guard pointed out that the Belgian, Italian, and Norwegian consuls were all leading officials in the White Guard, but they were told to leave them alone. [The workers’ Information Bulletin] was justified in claiming, on 15 April, that the Consular Corps had persistently abused their immunities to help the government’s enemies. The Swedish embassy did the same…” (Upton, 384)

Marx and Engels criticized the Paris Commune for being too lax and soft. The same criticism can be made of the Finnish red guard.

The white senators managed to escape from Helsinki to the new white capital of Vaasa. Bourgeois politicians were not arrested like they should have been.

White Guard Senator Talas stated in his memoirs that:
“If the reds had been bolder they probably could have gotten all of the bourgeois senators arrested… Arresting the government could have caused the war to end completely differently. Without the help of the [white] government of Vaasa it is doubtful if Mannerheim could have inspired support among the population of the North which was needed to defeat the reds. The reds would naturally have called Mannerheim’s action a revolt against the ‘lawful government’ by a general coming from Russia. As Mannerheim was still unknown to the Finnish people, such talk could have influenced at least part of the population” (O. Talas, Muistelmia, p. 71)

“Leaders of the bourgeois groups in the parliament were also not isolated [or arrested] but they were able to carry out counter-revolutionary activities. They published appeals to the Finnish people and attacked the revolution as an unheard of act of violence [Talas, p.72] … This helped to direct and organize counter-revolutionary forces” (Holodkovski, p.180)

Svinhufvud, the leader of the white government was trapped inside Red Helsinki, but was able to escape.

“The rescue of Svinhufvud… showed how damaging the hostility of bourgeois experts and technicians, whether Finnish or Russian, could be. Bourgeois officers, sea captains, navigators, engineers, telephonists and telegraphists, doctor and nurses, had to be employed if society was to continue, but none of them could be trusted to be neutral at moments of crisis. Only severe methods of repression could have overcome this menace to the security of the Red regime and it was not prepared to adopt such methods.” (Upton, p. 387)

All talk about the red government being a supposed totalitarian dictatorship is nonsense. It was far more lenient and less authoritarian then the white government, which was attempting to build either military dictatorship or monarchy and which outlawed the communist party and most other leftist organizations during its rule after the war. The red government was democratic, reformist and soft to a degree which hampered the success of the revolution.

Even British bourgeois historian Upton, despite being confused about many other things, says quite correctly that the red government: “in dividing over whether to maintain the closure of the bourgeois press, showed that they had not fully grasped that they were presiding over a war, in which there could be no question of allowing enemy newspapers to be published.”
(Upton, p. 288)

“They did not see that the fact that revolution is an act of violence… They did not see that war, the fact that blood had been shed, shifted the political conflict onto a qualitatively new level.”
(Upton, p. 302)

“In the heat of a civil war, these men who were principled atheists, came near to the Christian ideal of loving their enemies… It was a sentiment that their Christian opponents certainly did not reciprocate. Political realists will question the[ir] wisdom… and they had failed lamentably to grasp what was needed if the revolution was to be carried to a successful conclusion… If their precepts were followed, the revolution was certainly doomed to political and military defeat, but its moral superiority over the victors would be incontestable.” (Upton, pp. 303-304)

“The mildness with which the Whites were treated did not go unnoticed, and some Reds thought it scandalous. They could see the class enemy apparently leading a comfortable, carefree existence, while workers suffered and died for the cause. A report from the front on the mood among Red Guard troops described their bitterness because “the enemy is pampered and protected, and prisoners offered conditions which the men at the front do not even dream of.” The men were saying that when they got back, “We will first of all clear up the rear of Mensheviks who play at revolution, and the more dangerous butchers.” On 4 March a meeting of Red Guard commanders in Helsinki demanded that White prisoners should get no better food and conditions than the Red Guard on active service, and there were press comments on the crowds of idle bourgeois haunting the streets and restaurants. The Labour Department commissioned a report on the problem that was forwarded to the Deputation for consideration on 9 March. The simple proposition was put forward

that the bourgeois would have less time to make mischief if they were put to work, and it recommended the government to “bring into force a duty to work, because of counter-revolutionary sabotage.” The idea was that anyone without a certificate of useful employment would be deprived of his ration card: “The plan is also humane, there is no trace of compulsion in it, everything is voluntary.” This was true in that anyone would be free not to work if he was prepared to do without food. The Deputation approved the idea in principle, but it looks as though the problems of implementation prevented it being put into effect.” (Upton, p. 383)

In conclusion, the Reds were novices in military matters. They had learned to work largely under peaceful reformist conditions and not to engage the capitalists in violent clashes.

The Red leadership had accepted the dogma of the 2nd International, that socialism could not be built in a less developed country like Finland, until the largest industrial powers like Germany became socialist. Therefore the Finnish Red leaders had never seriously prepared for revolution in Finland. When the situation began moving towards a revolutionary crisis, they tried to avoid it. However, as the masses moved further and further Left, so did many of the leaders. When the revolutionary situation was forced upon the Red leaders, most of them accepted the inevitablity of revolution and responsibility of leading it. They did not betray the workers.

However, they were not well equipped to lead. Due to their softness and incompetence, they often resorted to basically anarchistic tactics, although not because they were committed to anarchism, quite the contrary. Instead, it was merely because they lacked the necessary skills to do anything else. They lacked the skills to create solid revolutionary organization, discipline, leadership and decisiveness. Those are skills which they did not originally have, and need to be learned.

They were not real revolutionaries, had no experience of revolution, and did not understand revolutionary theory. The revolution would have to be their teacher. They would have to learn from the revolution and from the masses. They had also not carried out the necessary preparations for the revolution. That is why they seriously lacked weapons and did not have a military organization ready when civil war broke out, while the White Guard had been making decisive preparations, and was already armed and ready for a war.

Since the task had not been completed in advance, the Red Guard would have to be made into an army, during the civil war. The inexperience and theoretical backwardness of the leaders, made this a difficult and slow process, but it was being done. We shouldn’t be too hard on the leaders though, they did not ask to be in that situation. Many times they offered to resign, if better leaders could be found. But there were no other leaders. The working class vanguard does not fall from the sky, but is built and trained over the course of time, together with the masses.

Their task was difficult, but not impossible. The Reds had certain advantages, and their defeat was not inevitable. The whites could not sustain a long war, because they controlled no production centers and their troops were farmers who would try to abandon them en masse by the time Spring sowing came around. The crucial factor was Germany. The Whites were able to focus their forces, while the German invaders stabbed the Reds in the back. The only way for the Whites to achieve a quick victory was with Germany – though, if Finland had had a Bolshevik party they would probably have already taken power in the December 1917 General Strike, and the civil war would might never have happened.

We have now analyzed the Finnish struggle for independence, the conditions of the working class and the peasantry before the revolution, the 1917 December General Strike, the White war preparations and creation of the Red Guard. In the next installment we’ll finally begin analyzing the details of the Revolution and civil war.

SOURCES:

Holodkovski, Suomen Työväenvallankumous 1917-1918

Pertti Haapala, Kun yhteiskunta hajosi. Suomi 1914-1920

Aimo Klemettilä, Tampereen punakaarti ja sen jäsenistö

Suodenjoki ja Peltola, Köyhä Suomen kansa katkoo kahleitansa: Luokka, liike ja yhteiskunta 1880-1918 (Vasemmistolainen työväenliike Pirkanmaalla osa I)

Marja-Leena Salkola, Työväenkaartin synty ja kehitys punakaartiksi 1917-18 ennen kansalaissotaa

Pertti Haapala, Tehtaan valossa. Teollistuminen ja työväestön muodostuminen Tampereella 1820-1920, Historiallisia tutkimuksia 133

Punakaarti Rintamalla

Some basic information about Red troop formations https://www.jaegerplatoon.net/FORMATIONS1.htm

Koskinen, Veljiksi kaikki ihmiset tulkaa

Anthony Upton, The Finnish Revolution 1917-1918

Osmo Rinta-Tassi, Kansanvaltuuskunta punaisen Suomen hallituksena

V. Rasila, Kansalaissodan sosiaalinen tausta

Hyvönen, Suurten tapahtumien vuodet 1917-1918

Jussi Koivuniemi, Tehtaan pillin tahdissa. Nokian tehdasyhdyskunnan sosiaalinen järjestys 1870-1939

Nieminen Jaana, Kansallisesta jakautumisesta kunnalliseen eheytymiseen: vuoden 1918 sota Virroilla

Laitinen Erkki, Kurun historia 1867-1918, Vanhan Ruoveden historia III:5,1

Suomen luokkasota: Historiaa ja muistelmia

Vainio Marko, Yksi opisto – yksi liike. Tampereen teknillisen opiston suojeluskuntakomppania

Tampereen suojeluskunnan osana 1917-1918.

E. Raikkönen, Svinhufvud ja itsenaisyyssenaatti

O. Talas, Muistelmia