Tambov Rebellion

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Tambov Rebellion
Part of Russian Civil War
Date 1920 - 1921
Location Tambov Governorate, Russian SFSR
Result Decisive Red Army victory
The United guerrilla army of the Lands of Tambov Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Russian SFSR
Commanders and leaders
Stepan Petrichenko
P.M. Tokmakov
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Mikhail Tukhachevsky
70,000 100,000
Casualties and losses
ca. 5,000 killed Unknown. At least 1,000 members of the Communist Party and other civilians killed

The Tambov Rebellion (Soviet misnomer Antonovshchina) which occurred between 1920 and 1921 was one of the largest and best-organized peasant rebellions challenging the Bolshevik regime during the Russian Civil War.[1][2] The uprising took place in the territories of the modern Tambov Oblast and part of the Voronezh Oblast, less than 300 miles southeast of Moscow. The leader of the rebellion, Pyotr Mikhailovich Tokmakov, was a former officer of the Russian Imperial Army, who had earlier been decorated with the highest Order of St. George. In Soviet history the rebellion was referred to as Antonov's mutiny or the Antonovschina, although Aleksandr Antonov, a former official of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, was only the Chief of Staff of one of the rebel armies. The movement was later portrayed by the Soviets as a sort of anarchical banditry like other anti-Soviet movements who opposed them during this period.



The rebellion was caused by the forced confiscation of grain by the Bolshevik authorities, a policy known in Russian as "prodrazvyorstka". In 1920 the requisitions were increased from 18 million to 27 million poods in the region. This caused the peasants to reduce their grain production knowing that anything they did not consume themselves would be immediately confiscated. Filling the state quotas meant death for many by starvation.[2] The revolt began on 19 August 1920 in a small town of Khitrovo where a military requisitioning detachment of the Red Army appropriated everything they could and "beat up elderly men of seventy in full view of the public".[2] The peasant army was known as the Antonovtsi or "Blue Army", as opposed to the "White Army" (anti-communist army), "Red Army" (communist army), "Green Army" (armed peasant groups) and "Black Army" (anarchists of Ukraine and Russia)—all taking part in the Civil War.

A distinctive feature of this rebellion, among the many of these times, was that it was led by a political organization, the Union of Toiling Peasants (Soyuz Trudovogo Krestyanstva). A Congress of Tambov rebels abolished Soviet power and created a Constituent Assembly that called for universal suffrage and land reform. A major tenet proposed by them was returning all land to the peasants.[1]

On February 2, 1921, the Bolshevik leadership announced the end of the "prodrazvyorstka", and issued a special decree directed at peasants from the region implementing the "prodnalog" policy. The new policy was essentially a tax on grain and other foodstuffs. This was done prior to the X Party Congress, where the measure was officially adopted. The announcement began circulating in the Tambov area on February 9, 1921. The Tambov uprising and unrest elsewhere were significant reasons that the "prodnalog" policy was implemented and the "prodrazvyorstka" was abandoned.


Aleksandr Antonov, a radical member of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, had sided with the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution in 1917, but he became disenchanted with them after the Bolshevik's requisition of grain policy was implemented in 1918. Antonov became a popular hero to the people of the Tambov region of central Russia where he started his campaigns.

In October 1920 the peasant army numbered over 50,000 fighters, and was joined by numerous deserters from the Red Army. The rebel militia was highly effective and infiltrated even the Tambov Cheka.[2] Alexander Schlichter, Chairman of the Tambov Gubernia Executive Committee, contacted Lenin, who ordered Red Army reinforcements for the area.[3] In January 1921 peasant revolts spread to Samara, Saratov, Tsaritsyn, Astrakhan, and Siberia. In February the peasant army reached its peak, numbering up to 70,000 and successfully defending the area against Bolshevik expeditions.

On May 20, 1921 the Republic of the Lands of Tambov was proclaimed at the public gathering that was initiated by the Union of the Working Peasants, the town's administration, and the command of the United Guerilla Army of the Lands of Tambov. The meeting took place in the village of Karay-Saltyki, Kirsanov Uyezd, Tambov Governorate. The meeting elected Shendiapin as head of the new republic. The seriousness of the uprising called for the creation of the "Plenipotentiary Commission of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Bolshevik Party for the Liquidation of Banditry in the Gubernia of Tambov ". With the end of the Polish-Soviet War and the defeat of General Wrangel, the RKKA could divert its regular troops into the area - in total over 100,000 Red Army soldiers were deployed, including special Cheka detachments.[2] The army used heavy artillery and armored trains. The Red Army, under the command of Tukhachevsky, also engaged in the summary execution of civilians. Tukhachevsky and Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko signed an order, dated June 12, 1921, that stipulated:

"The forests where the bandits are hiding are to be cleared by the use of poison gas. This must be carefully calculated, so that the layer of gas penetrates the forests and kills everyone hiding there."[2]

Chemical weapons were used "from end of June 1921 until apparently the fall of 1921", by direct order from leadership of Red Army and Communist party.[4] Publications in local Communist newspapers openly glorified liquidations of "bandits" with the poison gas.[4]

Seven Concentration camps were set up. At least 50,000 people were interned, mostly women, children, and the elderly, some of them sent there as hostages. The mortality rate in the camps was 15-20 percent a month.[2]

The uprising was gradually quelled in 1921. Antonov was killed in 1922 during an attempt to arrest him. Total losses among the population of Tambov region in 1920-1922 resulting from the war, executions, and imprisonment in concentration camps have been estimated as at least 240,000.[4]

Recovery of documents

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Documents relating to the rebellion were found by the local ethnographer Boris Sennikov in 1982 while he was engaged in clearing sand from the altar of the Winter Church of the Kazan monastery - during the 1920s the monastery had been requisitioned for use as the local Cheka headquarters and the church had served as the archive of the Tambov Military Commissariat.

In 1933 the local government decided to burn documents that could compromise the Soviet regime. However, during the process, the fire grew out of control and had to be extinguished by water and, crucially, sand. All documents in the archive were believed to be destroyed; as the church altar was not used by the archive the surviving documents, covered by a layer of sand, were never found. In 1982 the local archive changed its address and the church became abandoned. When Sennikov found the documents, the Tambov department of the Committee for the State Security opened a criminal case against him. Later the case was closed, although Sennikov did lose his job.

In 2004, the publishing house Posev published the Sennikov archive as part of The Tambov Rebellion and the Liquidation of Russian Peasantry[4] along with documents relating to the Governate Military Commissariat (including those dealing with Konstantin Mamontov's 1919 anti-Bolshevik raid, and those describing the Great Purge of the 1920-30s). The documents also included Red Army orders issued during the rebellion, correspondence, reports of the use of chemical weapons against the peasant rebels, and documents of the Union of the Working Peasants.

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Coordinates: 52°43′N 41°25′E / 52.717°N 41.417°E / 52.717; 41.417

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