By David Lethbridge
In the present period, as capitalists, their governments and their institutions escalate their ongoing attempt to distort the history of socialism, few people know about imperialism’s first war against socialism. This was the bloody and savage war waged by imperialist powers against the fledging Soviet state, between 1917 and 1920.
Led by Britain, the leading imperialist power at the time, a dozen countries including France, Czechoslovakia, Japan, Italy, the US and Canada attacked revolutionary Russia. Their purpose? Fascist sympathizer Winston Churchill put it quite succinctly: “to strangle Bolshevism in its cradle.”
In no way was this intervention a minor or a brief affair. For four years, imperialist forces attacked from the west through Ukraine and Poland, as well as from the south, the far north and the far east. There were troops in Odessa, in Crimea, in the Baltics, in the Urals, throughout Siberia and in the far eastern seaport of Vladivostok.
Imperialist troops made common cause with the “White Russians” – forces allied with the monarchy and the deposed ruling classes. American and British aircraft bombed and strafed the Red Army and the towns and villages that supported the revolution. Imperialist naval vessels occupied Soviet harbours and fired on seaports, but it was the armed infantry, in their multinational legions, that did most of the slaughter.
The degree of vicious savagery to which the imperialist forces descended can be illustrated by their treatment of captured Bolsheviks. A Czech patrol, under British command, rounded up a group of exhausted communist prisoners. They lined them up in front of the telegraph poles that stretched along the side of the Trans-Siberian Railway and gave each of them a length of rope. They forced the communists to climb the poles and hang themselves from the top. Those that refused were repeatedly bayoneted until they complied.
Britain and its allies imagined that the Bolsheviks and the Red Army were nothing but a disorganized rabble, incapable of military strategy and unsupported by the people. But they were wrong on all counts. As the years wore on, imperialist forces began to suffer repeated defeats.
Eventually, even White Russian forces began to go over to the socialist side. Near the northern Russian city of Archangel, for example, a garrison of White Russian soldiers, situated in their barracks, refused to carry out their officers’ orders and began to wave red flags from the windows. The British general, Edmund Ironside, arrived with a company of infantry and shot a mortar shell into the barracks – the soldiers surrendered. Ironside then ordered a group of those who had surrendered to shoot thirteen of their fellows in the back of their heads, after he had made them dig their own graves.
Ironside later claimed that the murders never took place, but military records showed that he had personally signed their death warrants.
By the end of 1920 it was clear that imperialism had lost the war that it had so ruthlessly begun. Lenin, the Red Army and the Communist Party had won, and they set about constructing a socialist society.
In capitalist societies, there is rarely mention of this armed intervention against the Soviet state – the ruling classes prefer that it remain hidden in the shadows. But one thing is very clear, and it is a lesson that all working people – and especially revolutionary communists – today should take to heart. It does not matter to imperialism whether socialism comes to power by force or by election – as did Salvador Allende in Chile – imperialism will stop at nothing to see that it is destroyed.
Today China is in the crosshairs. But just as Lenin was victorious, so too will we all be with sufficient courage and resolution. The future awaits!
[Photo: soldiers from several countries march to war against revolutionary Russia]
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