Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tatars 1920 - The War of the Black Eagle and the Farmer

The war of the Black Eagle and the Farmer (voina chernogo orla i zemledel'tsa) took place during February and March 1920 in Bugul'ma and Menzelinsk districts and the northern areas of Buguruslan district.  The Union of the Black Eagle and the Farmer was an organization of Right SRs and ex-kolchak officers committed to the restoration of the Constituent Assembly and a third all-nationality peasant revolution against the White reaction and Bolshevik commissarocracy.  The peasant war in the Bugul'ma region which inherited the name of this organization certainly benefited from the political and military expertise of the Right SRs and former White officers, but it started as a spontaneous peasant uprising against the Bolshevik requisitionings and, like the chapany uprising, was directed in the villages by the peasants and deserters from the civil war armies.

The uprising began in the village of Novyi Elan'' (Troitskoe volost' Menzelinsk uezd) on 7 February 1920.  A requisitioning brigade of thirty-five workers from Menzelinsk had placed the village under its own martial law because of the refusal of the peasantry to fulfil the food levy (which, it was later admitted, had been set far too high).  Twenty suspected "kulaks", including two women, had been incarcerated in unheated quarters at -30 degrees Centigrade.  The villagers attacked the brigade with pitchforks, axes, and pikes, disarmed it, and chased it out of the village.  Some of the nearby villages rose up in a similar fashion against other brigades.  On 9 February a major uprising broke out in the small market town of Zainsk, where the main headquarters of the uprising were subsequently established.  The chairman of the Menzelinsk Cheka, which had recently conducted a brutal campaign against the deserters in the woodland regions, was murdered, along with twenty-eight food-brigade workers from Petrograd.  The police building was ransacked.  On the steps of the town church a "parliament" was established, headed by the bandit A.I. Borisov, several Right SRs, and deserters from Kolchak's army.

From Zainsk, the uprising spread rapidly in three main directions: south-east towards Ufa, winning over a large proportion of the Bashkir population (pastoralists, poor peasants); south towards Bugul'ma and Buguruslan, taking in a broad cross-section of the Russian and Tatar peasants, especially in the areas near the Simbirsk-Ufa railway; and west towards Chistopol', where Mordvin, Chuvash, Tatar, and Russian peasants all joined the insurrection.  Despite this ethnic diversity, nationalist opposition does not appear to have played a prominent role in the uprising, which was squarely based upon peasant opposition to the requisitionings.  The slogans of the movement were preoccupied with political and economic issues similar to those of the chapany uprising: "Down with the Communists!"; "Down with the prodrazverstka!"; "Long live Soviet power without the Communists!"; "Long live the Bolsheviks and free trade!"; "Down with the seizures of grain, smash the collection points": "Long live peasant power!"; It is true, however, that in some of the non-Russian areas, particularly among the Tatars, hatred of the requisitioning brigades had been stirred up by the inability of the latter to distinguish between the different socio-economic groups of the population - a failure no doubt explained by the fact that the brigades comprised mainly Russians.

The armed forces of the Black Eagle rising were, like the chapany, organized on a territorial basis.  Each insurgent village established and maintained its own regiment.  The entire male population between the ages of 18 and 45 was subject to conscription.  The large number of deserters in the region endowed the rebel units with a natural officer class and a relatively advanced supply of weaponry, including rifles and machine-guns.  At the height of its influence, on 12 March, this "peasant army" numbered 26,000 armed men, organized on three main "fronts" - Chistopol - Kazan, Bugul'ma- Samara, and Menzelinsk.  The army could count on the support of the peasantry in twenty-five volisti in Menzelinsk district, twenty-two volisti in Bugul'ma district, and twelve volosti in Chistopol' district.  Within these woodland regions, the rebel units were difficult to combat, since they had built up very close ties with the rural population.  The main channels of Bolshevik influence within the insurgent region were all destroyed:  the lines of communication were cut; the railways were torn up; the party cells, the police and the Cheka were terrorized.  over 600 party and soviet officials were murdered in Menzelinsk, Belebei, and Bugul'ma districts during the uprising.

The remoteness of the insurgent areas, which had only been under Soviet power since the previous spring, weakened the early initiatives of the Bolshevik authorities and allowed the uprising to take root.  the Red Army reserve forces in the region seriously underestimated the extent of the uprising and, with inadequate troops, made little headway against it until the middle of March.  The Reds would overcome a village stronghold and arrest the suspected ringleaders, only to find that the core of the rebel forces had dispersed and fled to the woods  Officially, the uprising was said to have been suppressed by the end of March, but until the end of the year small bandit groups surviving from the February uprising continued to harass the party authorities and disrupt the requisitioning campaigns. 

from the pages of "Peasant Russia Civil War"
The Volga countryside in Revolution 1917-1921  by Orlando Figes 1989

No comments: