The Red Terror (1918) – How the Bolsheviks Went on a Rampage after the Russian Revolution

VikingLifeBlog

The Red Terror (1918) was an important element of the Russian Revolution that showed the violent character of the Bolshevik regime led by Vladimir Lenin. The terror was carried out by the Soviet secret police: the Cheka (All-Russian Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counterrevolution and Sabotage) and was led by Felix Dzerzhinsky. Underlaying causes were the Left-SR uprising and the assassination attempt on Lenin by Fanny Kaplan. Hundreds of thousands of people would die at the hands of the Cheka.

History Hustle

Vladimir Lenin.jpg

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (22 April [O.S. 10 April] 1870 – 21 January 1924), better known by his alias Lenin, was a Russian revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as the first and founding head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1924 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, Russia, and later the Soviet Union, became a one-partysocialist state governed…

View original post 784 more words

World War II Movies Worth A Damn: Fortress of War

 This movie is also called “The Brest Fortress”. -SF

brest

The film is a flawed depiction of the Brest Fortress siege, but rightly celebrates the defenders’ enormous courage.

 

The 2010 Russian-Belarusian film Fortress of War tells the tale of the Soviet men and women defending an exposed, antiquated fortress. As the first to be hit by the titanic German invasion of Russia in June 1941, they held out for an entire month while the Nazis devoured their country.

Featuring beautiful cinematography shot on the site of the actual Brest Fortress, Fortress of War doesn’t shy from portraying the grim toll that act of defiance exacted on the soldiers and civilians who simply refused to give up.

But despite the film’s qualities, the screenwriters commit a major sin of omission, remaining silent on a historical detail that would change our perspective on the film.

Brest Fortress was first built in the 1830s in what is today the country of Belarus, and rests on an island separate from the city of Brest itself. The fort’s old-fashioned battlements seem charming rather than formidable.

The film’s firm sense of time and place is one of its strengths. We are quickly acquainted with various buildings and inhabitants inside the fortress in its pristine pre-siege condition. Every image oozes period detail from the wire-frame glasses to portraits of Joseph Stalin and the hobnails in officers’ boots.

The opening scenes exude nostalgia — the film’s narrator is a young boy, Alexander Akimov, who plays the tuba for “the musical platoon of the 333rd Regiment,” while soldiers and young women dance in the fortress’s sunny courtyard.

There are 300 civilians among the 8,000 soldiers garrisoned in the fort. Young lovers tryst in secret while a portly commissar berates his men on how to better perform a Cossack dance.

This rosy portrait of life in the Stalinist-era Soviet Union may seem strange to Western audiences, and indeed could be called into question given that the Soviet army at the time had recently undergone purges resulting in the execution of 15,000 to 30,000 of its officers. But it’s also a reminder that there were still many in the USSR who led dignified lives before the German invasion.

Read the Remainder at War is Boring

Soviet History: Coping with Reality, Alcohol in the Gulags

glag

Two weeks ago while speaking to my grandfather, who had just arrived from Moscow for his annual six-month stay stateside, I asked him about the current sanctions ravaging the Russian economy. Sensing the question was too broad, I asked about the price of groceries, about decreasing pensions, and if he had noticed any discontent amongst his neighbors. After a short pause, my grandfather responded exactly how I expected. “We’re Russians,” he said. “We’ve gotten through worse before, and we’ll get through this.” In his short, yet poignant response, my grandfather embodied a part of the Russian psyche conditioned by the Soviet regime — a psyche that considers suffering not as an outlier of the human condition, but as a normal occurrence.

While the atrocities of the Soviet regime are numerous, none targeted its own society in a more inhumane, ruthless manner than the Gulag prison camp system. Short for “Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Labor Settlements (Glavnoye upravleniye ispravityelno-trudovykh lagerey i koloniy),” the Gulag system dotted the USSR and, between 1917 and1986, affected the lives of nearly 30 million people. Within these camps, especially between 1937 and Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, people were whittled down to their most primitive state, existing only within a desolate reality of abusive guards, punishing weather, and the ever-present notion they were nothing more than a cheap, inexhaustible resource.

In such circumstances, the desire to escape — if only mentally and for a finite period of time — was ruthless, and alcohol was only too obliging. Notably, this desire existed within every strata touched by the system, making alcohol a steadfast characteristic of life for prisoners, prison guards, and inhabitants of villages within a prison’s footprint.

Alcohol consumption amongst the prisoner population fell into two categories: alcohol provided by prison guards and alcohol produced (or smuggled) by the prisoners themselves. For the latter, prisoners resorted to some truly heinous methods to acquire alcohol. In some instances, prisoners lucky enough to leave prison and work offsite used contraceptives to smuggle alcohol inside their bodies into the camp. The graphic nature of this method — similar to cocaine mules — was only matched by its ineffectiveness. While this is perhaps the most sensational example of the illicit smuggling of alcohol, the majority of prisoners chose instead to attempt to produce their own poisonous concoctions.

Prisoners working in camp kitchens stole yeast, sugar, and some form of grain base (rice or peas were popular) to create their own home brew. In addition to rudimentary beer, prisoners also resorted to brewing narcotic-strength tea dubbed Chifir. Resembling a highly potent loose-leaf black tea, Chifir was rumored to have hallucinogenic qualities once the loose-leaf base was allowed to ferment under constant heat. Unfortunately, if all else failed, prisoners would often turn to drinking poisonous substances such as paint and varnish, which almost always resulted in death.

In addition to smuggling and making alcohol, prisoners were also given alcohol by prison guards, albeit on a much smaller scale. According to a document from February 2, 1934 entitled “On the prohibition of the issuance of vodka to campers,” the Joint State Political Directorate (the precursor to the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs or “NKVD”) noted that, in some Gulags, prison guards provided vodka to prisoners engaged in heavy work. The prohibition was issued after it was observed that the practice of providing prisoners with vodka resulted in increased violence and rioting.

In other cases, such as in the Norillag Corrective Labor Camp located near the city of Norilsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai, alcohol prisoner rations correlated with higher production. In the first half of 1945, Norillag received 68,000 decaliters of vodka, coinciding with a production increase of 40–50 percent compared to normal figures. While this is likely an example in which correlation does not imply causation, it is not a stretch to imagine vodka consumption numbing the pain of working in a part of Russia that, on average, has a daily winter temperature of around five degrees Fahrenheit.

For prison guards, access to alcohol was inconsequential and frequent, and served as a means of reinforcing their self-perceived notions of power within the camps. The ability to obtain items such as cognac, vodka, or wine (and the conviviality that comes with them) not only underpinned their place in the prison hierarchy, but also contributed to an illusion held by some former guards that their service in the Gulags represented “the good old days.”

While the above-mentioned example of Norillag indicates that the state provided camps with alcohol, in many instances prison guards, helped by the fact that Gulag borders were notoriously porous, took it upon themselves to obtain their own supply from surrounding villages. Part of a greater black market that developed between camps and surrounding populations, alcohol and tobacco were routinely exchanged for camp goods. If one is to believe historian Vladimir Dukelsky’s description of prison guards as “men who had seriously blotted their copybook, were alcoholics, and/or thieves,” then the enormity of the black market for alcohol, described by Wilson Bell as being facilitated by camp officials, is not difficult to grasp.

Within the Gulag system that peppered the remote regions of the Soviet Union, the influence of alcohol was as inescapable as the camps themselves. As it does for so many now, alcohol provided an escape, albeit a fleeting one. Its use as a tool of subjugation, a symbol of power, and a bargaining chip for other goods entrenched alcohol in the psyche of all of those affected by the system. And while its role in the Gulag system was minor compared to the atrocities committed in the camps, within this context, alcohol remains a fundamental part of a chapter in Russian history still not fully understood or rectified.

Author Ruben Gzirian is a pursuer of fine whiskeys, with Michter’s US*1 American Whiskey currently his favorite. He holds an MA from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and enjoys reading World War II history, with a focus on the Eastern Front.

Read the Original Article at War on the Rocks