The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Russian Army Under the Bolsheviki

Russian Army Under the Bolsheviki

By Major John Šípek.

It was in October 1917. In Petrograd the government was seized by the Bolshevik leaders, Trotzky, Krylenko and their like. Comrade Krylenko was made commander in chief of all the Russian Armies. He had been ensign in the 13th Finnish Regiment, a very insignificant little officer with a rank inferior to that of second lieutenant. And now he became commander-in-chief over night. I saw him for the first time in May 1917 at the Convention of the Armies of the Southwestern front. He was a nice looking little fellow, an orator of the style of Marat, a demagogue who liked being sarcastic. Now and then he assumed a poise a la Napoleon, lightning playing in his eyes; the crowd was hypnotized. He was incarnate ambition, and now he realized the wildest of his dreams; he was the commander-in-chief of the entire army.

There was only one fly in his ointment; he was still an ensign, even after he was promoted to supreme command. To make the contrast between his rank and his power less glaring he induced Lenine to give him the rank of colonel, but that was not sufficient. Why should there be any officers at all? Look at Krylenko himself. Until recently he had been a lawyer; he became an officer because he had been called into the army through the necessity of war and having some education was made an officer, most of the professional officers having been killed.

So now Krylenko issued a general order by which the rank of officer in the Russian Army was abolished; the different companies, batteries, battalions, regiments, brigades, divisions, army corps and armies were to select their own leaders or commanders, but the leaders were to wear no special insignia of their command. The order was caried out. The majority of soldiers paid no attention to the order, but the worst elements in each company held a meeting and selected one of themselves for the commanding officer of the company. The former officers were turned to do kitchen police and were taught fraternity and equality by blows, kicks, bayonets and in the end by powder and shot. Thus the radical idea of equality was realized in the Rusian Army, as thousands of officers were tortured and killed merely because they were better educated than the soldiers.

The new commanders, most of whom had been toughs before the war, assumed the reins of power. First they divided among themselves the cash in the regimental treasury; then they started to barter away supplies. All food supplies were distributed by the regimental leaders to the companies, and commanders of the companies traded food with Austro-Hungarian and German armies, the Russians preferring to take whiskey rather than money. Pretty soon the Russian Army did not have enough to eat. Soldiers who could put two and two together saw that the end was near and so went home without waiting for it. Nobody stopped them, and as early as December Russian companies had only twenty to thirty soldiers apiece, men who had no home or whose home was the entire world.

Now these soldiers knew what to do, when supplies gave out. First they traded horses and guns, uniforms and shoes from various supply depots for food and whiskey; then they made excursions back of the front, cleaned up some villages, burnt them and went on. And when there was nothing more in the neighborhood, when the whole country in the rear of them was turned into a desert, they abandoned their position on the inactive front and marched a few days into the interior of Russia. Before them went terror, after them was the peace of death.

At Brest-Litovsk in the meantime German diplomatic agents met the Bolsheviki to make peace. The gathering might call itself a meeting of German delegates, for in reality all those present were German agents. For the sake of appearances Germany annexed only one-third of European Russia, but in reality the entire gigantic empire of the Czar was taken over by the Kaiser. Trotzky, an ever faithful servant of the “empire of discipline and good manners”, as Bismarck called his country, received the hint to exchange his portfolio of foreign affairs commissary for the military department; and when he had done that, he proceeded to organize the Red Army from the refuse of humankind which still remained in the old Army, because of the fact that they had nowhere else to go. These men did not like the idea of going to work and grasped the opportunity to take a job, where there was nothing to do except to draw good pay and follow the pleasant motto “what is yours is mine, and what is mine is none of your business.”

At the same time Trotzky was told that it would be in harmony with his principles of international brotherhood to organize an army of German and Magyar prisoners; incidentally his government would find in them strong support. To help Trotzky in this undertaking the Germans sent detailed instructions to their officers in internment camps in Russia, and soon the organization of the Red Army was in full swing. In every town and village there were some men who before the revolution had been loafers or did only occasional work in order to earn money for whiskey. This type of Russian rushed into Lenine’s Army. Others of the same kind who preferred to stay at home organized a village soviet, secured arms and began to rule their particular city or village. Private property was declared abolished, and those who formerly had worked so that they might maintain themselves and their families had to maintain now a whole flock of idle commissaries and their guard. The commissaries issued decrees as to what each man should pay, and the guardsmen went around to collect with loaded rifles and a string of bombs around their belt. They went from house to house, handed the “bourgeois” the order to pay, searched the quarters, turned everything upside down, and when they collected the money, arranged drinking bouts in the offices of the local Soviets, bouts which ended in disgraceful orgies. If anyone dared to protest, he was shot. Just to look with hatred or contempt on a Red Guardsman was sufficient ground to take him to jail as a counter-revolutionist.

Freedom of speech was abolished, newspapers suppressed, every liberty done away with, even the freedom of thought. The old warcry of liberty, equality, and fraternity has received much abuse, but never such shameless perversion as at the hands of the Russian Bolsheviki.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1953, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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