1919-22 - The Peasant Movements
The peasant movements in these initial phases of the Soviet regime, after the political parties had been suppressed, were disorganized, lacking in leadership, and without a definite political program, but, arising as they did out of starvation, humiliation and despair, they were violent and extensive. They took the form of a multitude of local guerrilla wars against local Soviet officials and detachments dispatched to requisition grain, meat, and dairy products for the cities and the army.
The largest and most typical of these uprisings was that which occurred in the Tambov province under the leadership of Antonov. He had spent many years in exile for some act of violence which he committed during the 1905 Revolution. Set at liberty after the downfall of the Tsar, he returned to his native Tambov Province, where he called himself a Socialist Revolutionary and became head of the police in the town of Kirsanov, a post which he continued to hold for some time after the Bolshevik Revolution.
By the autumn of 1919 Antonov was already head of a terrorist band, recruited largely from deserters from the Red Army and from peasants who resisted requisitions. In the beginning he confined himself to small activities, such as assassinations of particularly unpopular local Soviet officials and raids on state farms. His movement gained in strength during 1920; it is estimated that his bands killed about 200 food collectors in Kirsanov County alone up to October.
A widespread uprising broke out in the southeast corner of Tambov County in August 1920; and from this time until the spring of 1921 the whole Province, along with some districts of the neighboring Saratov and Penza Provinces, was the scene of fierce partisan warfare. A Chekist who took part in the operations against Antonov estimates that at the height of his movement, between January and April, 1921, about 20,000 insurgents had taken up arms.
Cheka forces, fresh from the civil war, were sent to suppress the uprising and were extremely cruel toward the population. The government was aware of the inhuman Cheka methods of operation, but stern measures to frighten the peasantry seemed the only way to maintain the authority of the Soviet regime.
"In some villages," a Soviet description of the Antonov movement relates, "the families of the bandits began to leave their homes. . . . Then the plenipotentiary commission decided to demolish or burn the homes of bandits whose families were in hiding, to treat those who concealed bandits' families as harborers of bandits, to shoot the oldest in such families." Antonov's movement reached its climax early in 1921, by which time Antonov had reduced the Soviet administration in many districts to impotence. It was not until Lenin's retreat to a "New Economic Policy," which meant that requisitions would stop, that the uprising began to abate ; they finally ceased in the fall of 1921.
Antonov himself escaped capture for some time longer. But, like most peasant leaders, he could not stay away permanently from his native region. The Chekists reckoned with this; and on June 24, 1922, they surrounded a house in the village Nizhni Shibrai, in Eorisoglebsk County, where Antonov and his brother had taken refuge. This house was set on fire and the Antonovs were shot down as they fled from it.
In other parts of the country similar, though less extensive, movements were taking place about the same time. Unorganized, lacking experienced leaders, disunited, the local revolts and mutinies were not of immediate danger to the Moscow government; however, in their entirety they appeared ominous as an obvious proof of a profound dissatisfaction and indignation of the great majority of the population.
After prompting Lenin to make significant concessions, the peasant movements gradually abated in the subsequent era.
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