Popular Resentment in Primor’e

In previous posts, we saw how White misgovernment antagonised both Russian and Chinese populations in Transbaikalia and the Amur region; in the latter case, it resulted in a burgeoning partisan movement that had to be suppressed by the Japanese army. The Maritime Province was no exception. A combination of forced mobilisation – announced by the Omsk government in mid-February 1919 – and the excesses of anti-Bolshevik warlords led to a wave of popular resistance in the spring. By April, partisan activity had grown particularly marked in the Suchan region (later aptly renamed Partizansk), with its strategically important coal mines. A key target was the railway linking Suchan to Vladivostok, which passed through the town of Shkotovo.

partisanssuchan
Partisans in Suchan (today Partizansk), c. 1924. Source.

One particularly daring attack took place on 11 April, when Shkotovo came under fire from partisans seeking to free Bolshevik prisoners held by the town’s White garrison. The Allied high command promptly dispatched a 1,000-strong multinational force to quell the insurgency and protect the railway. Upon its arrival, however, it found that the partisans had melted away into the countryside. General William Graves, commander of the American forces in Siberia, went so far as to consider the Shkotovo affair a Japanese plot to force him to abandon the principle of non-interference and act against the Bolsheviks. The futility of the April expedition, coupled with the sheer incredulity at facing outright rebellion just 30 miles from the Allied headquarters in Vladivostok, prompted a reassessment of Kolchak’s regime.

近因鄂政府任命之官员,任意肆行虐政,诛求驱迫,民怒沸腾。过激派假此时机,以政府无道为定[词],鼓动民间,捷[?]如影响西比利亚铁路左近一带,乡民迭起反抗,距崴二百里之七孟河地方,大夥肆扰,势甚汹汹,亦系过激派主动,联军已往抵御。据各处报告,此事暗潮颇烈,甚至有结合铁路同盟会,以全体罢工为抵制之说。

外交团观此情形,因含政治性质,邀集各外交代表在英馆作非正式讨论,互换意见,陈献各本国政府採酌。所议如下:观察西比利亚现状,若长此迁延,于运输进行大有妨碍。民之所怒,一在复旧党,显助廓政府。二在试行强迫征兵。三在廓氏所任各项行政人员违背民旨。四在干涉自治会、各项协会及劳动会。五在不准组集西比利银行。议会政府所怨者,则以社会革命党行一切反对政府之鼓吹。由此情形致卢布价失常衡,联军国助俄统一计划无成,并授为过激派以鼓煽农社活动之良机,此为上下所交怨者也。爰拟以下列和平方法救正之:一、请鄂政府对于百姓既有之机关,採宽广自由态度,以结下级社会之信用。二、予以经济上之协助。三、用妥速之方法,以发达实业,振兴民生。四、改良财政计划。五、须使鄂政府召集代表民意机关,俾民间得以宣达意志。陈议如此,而各政府对俄政见互有异同,是否一致採行,难以逆料,特电祈鉴。

Recently, because the officials appointed by the Omsk government have misgoverned wilfully and recklessly, with extortion and coercion, the people’s anger has reached boiling point. The Reds have taken this opportunity to agitate among the people, saying that the government is corrupt; [?] this has affected the areas near the Trans-Siberian Railway, with villagers rising up repeatedly in revolt. In the Shkotovka River area 200 li [sic; Liu uses “Qimenghe”, the Chinese toponym for the area] from Vladivostok, there was a large number of disturbances, signs pointed to great turbulence. This was also a Red initiative and the Allies have gone there to suppress it. According to reports from various sources, the undercurrents of this matter run very deep and there is even a rumour that there will be an alliance with the railway union to launch a general strike as a show of resistance.

shkotovo
View of the barracks at Shkotovo, 1919. From the Eric Elkington collection. Source.

The diplomatic corps regarded these events as having a political nature, hence the various representatives gathered at the British consulate for an unofficial discussion and to exchange views, which would be presented to their governments for consideration. The following was agreed. Observing the current situation in Siberia, if it were to continue for long, it would be a great hindrance to transport. The people’s anger stems first from the restorationist party’s support for the Kolchak government. Second, from the attempt to implement forced mobilisation. Third, from the officials appointed by Kolchak and their violation of the people’s will. Fourth, from the interference in the zemstvo, the various associations and the labour movement. Fifth, from the prohibition against organising the Siberian bank. The duma government’s grievances lie in the Socialist Revolutionary Party’s anti-government propaganda. This situation has caused the ruble to lose its stability and thwarted the Allies’ plan to help Russia unite. It has given the Reds a golden opportunity to carry out agitation among peasant societies, earning the enmity of both governors and governed. Hence the following peaceful solutions were proposed. 1. To ask the Omsk government to take a broadly liberal approach to popular associations, so as to gain credibility with the lower sectors of society. 2. To render financial aid. 3. To swiftly and effectively develop industry and revive the people’s livelihoods. 4. To reform financial administration. 5. To require the Omsk government to assemble an organisation representative of the people’s will, so that the population will be able to convey their opinions. This was agreed, but the political views of the various governments towards Russia differ. One cannot predict if they will act in unison. For your consideration.

Telegram from Liu Jingren, 23 April 1919 (sent 21 April). Zhong-E Guanxi Shiliao: E Zhengbian yu Yiban Jiaoshe (2), Minguo Liunian zhi Banian, p. 193.
shkotovobridge
Bridge destroyed by partisans near Shkotovo, July 1919. Source.

As we have seen, Kolchak’s authority did not effectively extend into East Siberia and the Russian Far East. This hands-off approach allowed his appointed officials – such as S.N. Rozanov and P.P. Ivanov-Rinov – to terrorise the local population in the name of enforcing the draft or of rooting out Bolsheviks. Worse still, he had become tainted by his association with Japanese-sponsored White warlords such as Semenov and Kalmykov, who surpassed Kolchak’s men in brutality. Even more insidious was the Omsk regime’s prejudice against representative institutions, most of which were dominated by moderate Socialist Revolutionaries. When the Far Eastern Congress of Zemstvos and Municipal Dumas strayed into political discussions in January and February 1919, many of its participants were arrested and deported by Ivanov-Rinov. With Allied leaders such as President Wilson championing the spirit of democracy at the Paris Peace Conference, they could hardly approve of Omsk’s authoritarian tendencies and its unsavoury Far Eastern confederates.

This took the shine off Omsk’s military successes in March and April 1919, when its armies advanced rapidly into the Urals, captured Ufa and began marching on the Volga. One immediate impact was the failure of the draft in the Russian Far East: Less than half of the quota was eventually mobilised, and some historians have attributed Kolchak’s military defeat partly to the resulting lack of manpower as the campaign dragged on into the summer months. Equally serious was the western Allies’ continued ambivalence towards the Omsk government. As much as they may have lauded Kolchak’s successes on the battlefield, official recognition of his government – and hence more reliable access to Allied diplomatic and material aid – also depended on its political stance. Mirroring the five points enumerated by Liu, the Allies sent an official request to Kolchak on 26 May to clarify his politics and adhere to “democratic principles”. He would have to convene a Constituent Assembly after defeating the Bolsheviks, permit free and fair elections in areas under his control, and recognise the independence of Poland and Finland.

Liu’s concluding note of scepticism was nonetheless well-deserved, for the Allies were not completely united in their attitude towards Kolchak. The British were far more positive about his regime than the Americans were, while Japan’s hostility towards him had nothing to do with democratic principles. Furthermore, had Kolchak’s military victories outlasted the first heady months of spring 1919, the Allies might well have overlooked his illiberal politics and given Omsk the official recognition it craved. Less than two months after Liu’s telegram, however, the tide would turn against the armies of White Siberia, leaving Allied policy towards Kolchak as inconclusive as ever.

One thought on “Popular Resentment in Primor’e

  1. Pingback: A Mission to Moscow? – Shots Across the Amur 黑龍江對岸的槍聲

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