The Black Knights of 1919. The Baltic Freikorps and the Army of Bermondt

The uniforms of the Baltic  German Freikorps

The uniforms of the Baltic German Freikorps

The Latvian national epoch Lāčplēsis - The Bear Slayer tells the story of the Latvian mythological hero Lāčplēsis fighting against the Crusaders and their vile leader the Black Knight. The 1930 Latvian movie of the same name depicts the Black Knight being reborn in the vile German officer who leads the  war against the Latvian independence. The Black Knight personified the most strongest Latvian enemies – the Baltic German chauvinists, revisionists and imperialists.  95 years ago the new Republic of Latvia faced two strong enemies. The Bolsheviks from Russia and the German chauvinist reactionary forces. While Bolsheviks striven for breaking up the old order, the Baltic Germans and their supporters from the Fatherland fought to restore the old German order and prevent from any major changes directed against them.  Both the Bolshevik Latvia, both the national state of Latvia was their enemy. This article is about these forces, their leaders and the fate of them.

Present day Estonia and Latvia had significant German population since the Middle Ages. The Livonian Confederation ruled by the Livonian Order and the Bishoprics was dominated by the German knights, merchants and nobles. The Confederation was destroyed by the Russian invasion in 1558 and to prevent it from being taken by the Ivan IV The Terrible, the Livonian Order ceded to Poland-Lithuania and Sweden. Despite becoming the Polish and Swedish subjects the Baltic Germans kept their rights and privileges. The Swedish administration in Vidzeme tried to reduce the power of the German nobility, but failed. The Polish leadership was more tolerant, the autonomous Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was lead by the Baltic German elite. In Riga the town leadership was in the hands of Germans. Yet German population in Latvia was around 3%. Yet Germans following the ideas of Enlightenment helped Latvians to gain education and knowledge. First Latvian schools and books were made by the German missionaries and pastors. They believed the peasants should have education to work better, but they never thought that the peasants one day could become strong enough to lead the uprising against their captors.

At the end of the 18th century all Latvian lands were included in the Russian Empire. At first the  Russia was friendly towards Germans – they entered the Royal Court, Administration and the Army. However, during the reign of the Tsar Alexander II the wave of Russian nationalism affected the Baltic Germans limiting their rights and enforcing Russian language and leadership. The Serfdom was abolished after the end of the Napoleonic Wars sparking the rise of the Latvian national movement. The new Latvian educated middle class started tensions with the disturbed Baltic Germans. At the beginning of the 20 century the rise of the Latvian Left movement was equally hostile to the Baltic Germans. On 1905 the Revolution came from Russia to Latvia. The revolutionaries both fought the Russian Tsarist government and the Baltic German nobility. The mansions in the rural areas were burned down, people killed sparking German fear from Latvians. The Russian punishment expeditions trying to stop the revolt made double hate towards Germans and the Russian authorities. Then on 1914 Russia came to war with Germany. On 1915 Germans entered the Latvian lands. Occupying Courland (Kurzeme) and Semigallia (Zemglale). It was a deciding point – while some local Germans greeted them in open arms – thousands of Latvians joined the Latvian Rifleman to fight the Germans under the Russian banner.

On February (March) 1917 the Russian Empire had crumbled. Courland and Semigallia was ruled by the German Eastern Front Chief Command Region (Ober-Ost) The territories were under the German Military Administration. Despite for calls to annex the occupied territories, the German leadership considered Poland and the Baltic States as a military buffer zone to keep Russia as far as possible. Germany first desired to sign a separate peace agreement with Russia that would be complicated because of the annexation. Second – Berlin was unsure of the reaction of the Baltic nations and the local Germans that would want to keep their local power. It was more preferable to either keep the Eastern occupied territories under military administration or form new loyal puppet states. The Ober-Ost was under the direct leadership of the commander in chief Paul von Hindenburg and his deputy Erich Ludendorff. The Courland Civil Authority was lead by reserve major A Gosler. Gosler believed that Latvians must be assimilated despite their intelligence and potential. Although he was forced to accept Latvians within the local rural administrative positions. The German propaganda expressed the ideas of the German superiority and Baltic lands as the ancient parts of the German world.

On September 1917 Riga was captured by the Germans. The city was visited by the Kaiser Wilhelm II  himself. On February 1918 all Latvia and Estonia was taken over by the Germans. After the peace between the Germany and the Bolsheviks a question was raised of what to do with the occupied Baltic States. On February Lithuanian and Estonian national councils already had declared independence. The Latvian Provisional National Council (LPNC) and the Democratic Block was pinned down both by Germans and the Bolsheviks were unable to form a national government. Now was the moment to realize the German dream of restoring the Livonian confederation.

The map of the proposed United Baltic Duchy

The map of the proposed United Baltic Duchy

On March 8 1918  the Courland Land Council (Kurländischer Landesrat) proclaimed the restoration of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. The throne was presented to Kaiser Wilhelm II. The response from Kaiser was positive and on March 15 he recognized the “Duchy” as sovereign state and was ready to sign agreements with it. But that was not enough. With German Military still in charge the Provincial Assembly was formed of the local Germans and loyal Latvians and Estonians. On April 12 the Provincial Assembly (Der Vereinigte Landesrat für Livland, Estland, Ösel und Riga) issued decision to form the United Baltic Duchy and asked Germany to take it under their protectorate. On September 22 Kaiser recognized the sovereignty of the United Duchy. The leadership was presented to the Duke Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenburg. Known as explorer of Africa and governor of the German African colony Togoland until 1914 he was noble candidate for head of the new state. On November 5 1918 the United Baltic Duchy was proclaimed. Until his arrival the Regency Council head by the Vidzeme Land Marshall Adolf Pilar von Pilchau was the acting government. The duchy was to include Courland, Semigallia, Vidzeme and Estonia. Latgale as region with less German influence was left out. The main pillars of the state was the individual freedom of political beliefs, rights of movement, private property and the national equality. That however, did not meant the full equal rights for the Latvian ethnic majority. The Latvians and Estonians would gain proportional part in the parliament.  The Latvians would be represented by loyalists lead by Fricis Veinbergs who was fro pro-German since 1905. From November 5 to November 9 the councils worked on the new state constitution, formed Land Council, elected local governors, some of them Latvians and Estonians.

However, despite official recognition’s Berlin was slow and unwilling to fully realize the Baltic Duchy project. One of the reasons was the ongoing war in the West, lack of resources and hope that after the victory the Baltic question would be fully solved.  The victory never came. After the capitulation on November 11 1918 the United Baltic Duchy project was abandoned. There was no common idea what will happen next. On November 18 1918 the Latvian National Provisional Council and the Democratic Block declared independence. The new state was based on the will of the Latvian majority, it presented equal rights for all national minorities, but they were based on aproportionality. That was not what the Baltic Germans wanted.

German military authority was turned into civil. The LPNC was recognized by the Great Britain as de facto representative of Latvia. Berlin despite abandoning the Baltic Duchy project still tried to support the local German population. But, the main question was when the defeated German 8th army will be moved back to Germany. The question was answered by the Bolsheviks. They annulled the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty and declared the start of the Worldwide Socialist Revolution. With communist uprisings in Germany itself and the Bolshevik threats to march to Europe it was vital for both Allies and Germans to keep the 8th army in the Baltics. For Latvians it was unfortunate, but there was no other choice as Bolsheviks were marching towards Riga on December. Latvian Provisional Government signed provisional agreement with Germany for temporary alliance that would include forming German troops within the Latvian national forces.

The Honorary Badge and Medal of the Baltische Landeswehr

The Honorary Badge and Medal of the Baltische Landeswehr

This leads us to the main part. The 8th army of 75 thousand man was breaking up. The commander general Hugo von der Kathen  had start evacuation, the army withdraw it forces to Istenburg East Prussia. Before leaving von Kathen signed the order to form a Baltic Landguard die Baltische Landeswerh. It was intended to have 18 Latvian, 5 German and 1 Russian company and 5 artillery batteries with the force of 7050 man. The commanding officer was to be Swede. Both local Germans and the Germans citizens could join. The main units were the Baltic German battalion, Stormtroopers, the prince Lieven Russian company lead by Anatol Lieven a member of the historic German noble family, said to be originated from the Livonian (Liv) ruler Kaupo on 12th century. The Latvian units under command of colonel Oskarts Kalpaks and general Balodis was also under this army formation. The first commander was major Sheibert from December 1918 . On February 1919 the command was taken over by major Alfred Fletcher. Born in Germany, fought on many front lines he found himself in Latvia. As imperial officer his main allegiance was the German interests. Many Baltic Germans feared the Red terror and wowed to protect themselves.

The Flag of the Iron Division

The Flag of the Iron Division

Another German formation was the Iron Brigade later the Iron Division. It was formed from the German volunteers or the German Freikorps. The paramilitary German movements spring up from the returning German soldiers taking stand against the Bolsheviks. Adolf Hitler was one of them, as they were instrumental of crushing the communist rebellions in Germany. Freikorpers also moved to Baltic States as they were the main frontier in the war against Bolshevism. The Iron Brigade was  first made to cover the retreating German 8th army. For these men with no connection to Latvia, it was war of loot and adventure. Many hoped to gain land and riches here.

On December 3 1918 Bolsheviks invaded Latvia. They took over Valka, Valmiera, Rēzekne and Daugavpils. Latvian Provisional Government was forced to sing agreement with the Berlin representative August Vinning to give Latvian citizenship to all German volunteers who fought in the Latvian lines for at least 4 weeks. It was viewed as disgrace by many, leading to support the Bolsheviks rather than the Latvian “German puppets”. Latvian ethic units given order to face the Latvian Red Riflemen started uprising and were disarmed by the Landeswerh. On January 1 the German Iron Brigade and Landeswerh faced the Latvian Red Rifleman at Inčukalns and were defeated. Germans tried to stop their advance to Riga and took the old WWI positions. However, they were attacked from behind and were forced to retreat leaving all the cannons and machine guns. The route to Riga was open. Germans evacuated it along with the allied warships and the Latvian government. Bolsheviks chased Latvians and Germans to Courland and stopped along the river Venta. The German forces were broken and needed leadership and reinforcements. The remaining Latvian forces gained experience and strength in battles with Bolsheviks. Berlin needed the right the card for the Baltic gamble. They choose the King of Spades – Rüdiger von der Goltz.

Rüdiger von der Goltz.

Rüdiger von der Goltz.

Von der Goltz was born in December 4 1865 in Züllichau, Brandenburg. He graduated War Academy, served the German General Staff  for 13 years. On WWI he commanded the German army 12th Landeswerh division. On 1918 he was appointed as the commander of the German voluntary Ostsee division to fight the Bolsheviks in Finland. Together with the Finnish leader Karl Gustav Mannerheim he directed the operations against  the Bolsheviks. The victory was reached, however ethnic German Mannerheim served the Finland’s needs. Von der Goltz was appointed to Liepāja to lead the fight against the Bolsheviks. As the commander of the 6th German reserve corps and the Governor of Liepāja he soon accumulated great power he wanted to keep after the war. He had no respect for the Latvian Provisional Government and was playing tricks with the British Military Mission, for he once served in the English department of the German General Staff.

The stabilization of the Courland front on January 1919 was not just Goltz achievement. Latvian forces under colonel Kapaks stopped Bolsheviks at the Battle of Skrunda, but the city of Venstpils was lost. The worst case scenario was to evacuate to Lithuania and Northern Estonia. But, in the same time Estonian forces secured victory and pushed Bolsheviks downwards to Vidzeme. The Latvian Soviet Army was forced to send many regiments there. As Estonians were defeating the Latvian Red Rifleman, on February the Germans became active. The 6th German reserve corpus subordinated to the Northern Border Defense Staff were filled with men hostile towards the Latvian independence. They were young well equipped men akin to burn the Baltic States with fire and sword for a reward. Many of them later became members of the Nazi movement and served as the Third Reich as generals.

The 6th reserve corpus gained success in offensive of taking Kūldīga and Ventspils. Latvians moved along only to be caught in the friendly fire exchange at Airītes that caused the loss of the colonel Oskars Kalpaks. Latvians and Germans tried to encircle Bolsheviks, but unexpectedly they retreated by side and both Latvians and Germans fired on one other. As Germans were not keeping communications with Latvians, but just relied on the information from the Bolshevik POW, it could be a possible  German political conspiracy.

As mentioned A Vinning, Goltz and their henchmen had no positive regards towards Latvians. A scandal erupted when documents were uncovered about the plot to overthrow the Latvian government. The “von der Stryk affair” caused strife between Latvians and Germans, however the Goltz involvement was not proven.  Was the Stryk plot a unrelated to Goltz or a diverting move from the Goltz planned coup remains a question.

The April 16 coup was opened by the landeswerh unit lead by baron von Manteifel who disarmed the Latvian garrison. With silent accept by Berlin the Fatherland front force security committee lead by Manteifel, von Rekke, A, Maidel was established. Next day they declared that the Latvian Provisional Government was dissolved. However, it was still functional as it escaped on board the steamship Saratov that was guarded by the British ships. Goltz plan backfired because of the allied involvement.   The Military Directory was not accepted by the Latvian commander Balodis who replaced Kalpaks and Prince Lieven. In attempt to gain some legitimacy a new government was formed by pastor Andrievs Niedra that was formed from Baltic Germans and pro-German Latvians. O Borovskis was the nominal leader acting as Interior Affairs Minister. War minister Juris Seskovs, Minister of Justice Baltic German P. Sokolovskis, foreign Minister von Brimmer, minister of Agriculture K Slienis, and minister of national enlightenment pastor J.Kupčs. Niedra at first did not participate in the government meetings hoping to reach compromise with Ulmanis and the allies. After that failed Niedra issued order to fire the Ulmanis provisional government. On May 13 in the Liepāja war port he was kidnapped by the loyal Latvian officers and was forced to sign the resignation documents.  He soon escaped and rejoined his government. With no support and recognition both from Latvian nation and the allies the Niedra government was only the Goltz puppet.

On May 22 after pushing off the Bolshevik counter attacks Goltz ordered the landeswerh to capture Riga. City was captured without a fight and the “liberators” started to terrorize citizens. Bolshevik supporters and everyone suspected to be such was arrested or killed. Streets were filled with dead bodies. Shot people were dropped in the city canal. Germans established their own court or the Standrecht (the neck court) that routinely executed people without trial. 2-4 thousand people were killed during the white terror. However, its worth to note that during the Soviet rule even more thousands of Germans and Latvians were killed.

The Goltz reign of terror was stopped at Cēsis on June 22. The landeswerh and the Iron Division marched towards the united Estonian and Latvian forces in Vidzeme. That proved to be fatal mistake. Niedra government gathered the Iron Brigade and the Landeswerh under the “Latvian Forces”. On June 4 Estonian and Latvia  command demanded the major Alfred Fletcher to move away from their lines. Niedra ordered Fletcher to attack and defeat the Estonian forces. On May 6 his forces attacked the Cēsis 2th battalion forcing it leave the city. On June 10 allies forced to sign ceasefire. Allies made decision to order Germans to withdraw from Cēsis, but Germans ordered Estonians to do the same. After reaching no common ground battle started again. The reinforced Latvian and Estonian forces held off the attack and struck back, defeating the Goltz forces.

It was possible for Estonians and Latvians to wipe out the Iron Division and the Landewerh once and for all. However, they were spared by the allies who insisted to sign ceasfire on July 3 at Strazdumuiža. Germans retreated to Jelgava. The Landeswerh was brought under control by the British colonel Harold Alexander. Prince Lieven forces did not joined the Goltz side. His company was moved to Jelgava and Liepāja. As Russianized  German prince Lieven did not want to fight against the Latvians and Estonians, he wanted to fight Bolsheviks.

Pavel Bermondt Avalov in the center

Pavel Bermondt Avalov in the center

The Black Knight struggle reached the final phase. A new plan was devised to restore the dream of the United Baltic Duchy. This time more evil and vicious. Germany was holding thousands of Russian WWI POW’S. They were unable to return to Civil war raged Russia. So Berlin devised a plan to gather them in the anti-Bolshevik White Guard forces.  The chosen commander was peculiar individual named Pavel Bermondt-Avalov. His origins were a mystery. Born as Pavel Berman on 1877 in Tbilisi Georgia, he was rumored to have Karaite Judaist farther and Georgian mother. He gained the surname Avalov from his adoptive father Georgian prince Mikhail Avalishvili. His military carrier started with the Ussurian Cossacks  as musical conductor. He took part in the Russian wars against China and Japan. During WWI served in Caucasus. He made contacts with Germans in Southern Russia, but was arrested by Ukrainian nationalists. Germans recommended to release him. He moved to Saltzwedel POW camp. There he gathered forces to fight the Bolsheviks. With  his men he moved to Jelgava on August 12 1919. The White Guard Leader general Yudenitch appointed him as commander of the Western Voluntary Russian Army. General hoped that self declared count and major general will aid his forces to capture Petrograd.

The West Russian Volunteer Army badges

The West Russian Volunteer Army badges

Instead he joined with the remaining Iron Division and other Germans to lead march against Latvians in Riga. His army was formed from the Count Keller Corpus named after the fallen Russian general was mainly devised from the Russians in Germany. The Vigolitch corps were also Russian mainly. The Dibitch Corps were mainly from German volunteers. The Pleve group also and so as the German Legion. The defeated Iron Division joined the Bermondt. Only 1/6 of the “Russian” army were Russians. The German soldiers had to wear Black Uniforms with Russian Imperial symbols. As some Germans did not know how the Russian Orthodox Cross looks like they placed it on their uniforms the wrong way. Their symbolism included the Iron Cross and skull and bones. Many of their members were future Nazi party members.

On August 26 in Riga allies called a meeting and issued goal for a common attack on September 9 towards the East. Yudenitch ordered Bermondt to send his forces to Narva. Prince Lieven forces loyal to the White Guard did so. The rest of the Bermondt army instead marched to Riga on October. His adviser was Andrievs Niedra while Goltz was pulling the strings from behind. The goal was to destroy Latvian government and make Latvia a Germanic Russian province and assured the White Guard commanders that after capture of Riga he would move towards Russia. Yudenitch and Denikin mistrusted the pro-German cossack and turned him down. Traitor Bermondt issued operation “Thunderstrike” Bliztschlag. A force of 45 thousand men started attack on October 8.

Goltz-Bermondt venture ended in disaster. After getting stuck at the left bank of Riga, unable to capture Liepāja they were pushed away from Riga on November 9-11. On December all of the broken army of rouge terrorists who later claimed they “killed Latvians like rabbits”, burning down Jelgava on their way back. The German high command sent statement on November 25 that Bermondt army is under their command now. Latvia in return concluded that its in the state of war with Germany. Germany replied that its in no means in the state of war with Latvia. Later when a agreement with Berlin was signed to normalize the relations between two states, Germans refused to call it a Peace agreement since there was no war between Germany and Latvia.

Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter right from Hitler planning the Beer Hall Putsch

Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter right from Hitler planning the Beer Hall Putsch

Various were the fates of the Baltic Freikorps. One of its members Ernst von Salomon later remembered: “We killed what fell into our hands, . . . We saw red, we had nothing in the heart of human emotions. . . what were earlier houses, were rubble, ash and smoldering beams, like festering sores in the bare field . . . We had lit a bonfire, there was burning more than dead material, there also was burning our hopes, our desires, . . . the laws and values of the civilized world. . . We retreated, bragging, intoxicated, loaded with booty”. It was no wonder many of them became radical Nazis. One of the most well known was Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter. Born in Riga on 1884, he first took action on 1905 commanding German noble self defense units. He moved to Germany after the revolution. During the WWI he was German vice councilor in Turkey. After Riga was taken by Germans he returned to work in the press center. For his service in Estonia he was awarded with the First Class Iron Cross. After German defeat in WWI he joined the Landeswerh and then the Bermondt army. After the defeat he moved back to Germany were together with Alfred Roznenberg another Baltic German from Estonia organized a secret German emigrant society from Russia.  Then he joined the Nazi Party and became one of the early prominent members. He made the plan for Hitler  for the infamous  Beer Hall Putsch on 1923. On November 9 1923 during the final phase of the coup attempt in Munichh he was walking arm-in-arm with Hitler, and was shot in the lungs and died instantly as Hitler and others marched toward armed guards.He had brought Hitler down and dislocated Hitler’s right shoulder when he fell. He was the only first-tier Nazi leader to die during the Putsch. Of all the early party members who died in the Putsch, Adolf Hitler had claimed Scheubner-Richter to be the only “irreplaceable loss”. Hitler dedicated his first part of the Mein Kampf to him and other fallen revolutionaries.

The fates of two main Black Knights Goltz and Bermondt were more humble. Bermondt moved to Germany and wrote memoirs of his adventures on 1925. As others he was involved in right wing movements. On 1936 he was exiled by the Nazi government and  then moved to Yugoslavia. When WW2 reached Belgrade he moved to US and died in New York on 1973. His satiric appearance as eccentric incompetent army musician wanting to lead the army, but defeated by the smaller Latvian forces haunted him his entire life.   Goltz moved to Germany also wrote memoirs of explaining his motives and actions. From 1924 to 1930, he headed the German government department on the military education of young German youth. On 17 July 1931 he handed over the command of the Economic Policy Association Frankfurt am Main to the Reich President Paul von Hindenburg. In the age of 80 he died on November 4 1946 after witnessing another major German defeat.

Selected Sources:

Juris, Ciganovs. (2013) Latvijas Neatkarības Karš 1918-1920. Rīga. Zvaignze ABC.

Latvijas Brīvības Cīņas. Enciklopēdija (1999) Riga. Preses Nams

Zariņš, Klāvs (2014) Vācu Okupācijas režīms Kurzemes Guberņā (1915-1917) Militārā Pārvalde un civiliedzīvotāji. Rīga. Drukātava.

Cerūzis Raimonds. Vācu faktors Latvijā (1918-1939). Politiskie un starpnacionālie aspekti. – LU Akadēmiskais apgāds: Rīga, 2004.

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British Royal Navy in the Baltic Sea 1918-1920 Supporting the Latvian Independence

British sailors on board during the Battle of Riga 1919

British sailors on board during the Battle of Riga 1919

On November 1919 Latvian army faced attack from the much superior enemy – superior both in size and weapons. However, Latvian army withstood the attack and chased away the enemy from Riga for the final time. This would not have been done without the support of the British Royal Army, the French Navy and also Italian Navy. The British Royal Navy mission to Baltic Sea to assist Latvia and Estonia in the fight against the Bolsheviks made a great deal in winning the War for Freedom. The British Naval forces not only fought the Bolshevik navy, but also acted as artillery assistance against the pro-German forces that besieged Riga on October-November 1919.  This is a story of the British Royal Navy Mission in the Baltic Sea and how it assisted the Latvian fight for freedom.

The Russian Empire was the British and French most important ally. However, since 1915 when Germans marched deep within the Russian territories it was also the most vulnerable ally. German forces split Latvian lands in half across the river Daugava, but failed to capture Riga. Latvians formed the Riflemen regiments within the Russian Army to defend rest of Latvian territory and liberate the German occupied territories. The front stayed mostly intact until 1917 when the February revolution caused the breakdown of the Russian army. Germans captured Riga and later took over Vidzeme and Latgale. On March 8 1918 the new Bolshevik government signed peace agreement with the Germany and ceded Baltic States to Germany. Allies were shaken by this because now Germans could send their forces from the Eastern front to the Western Front. Their sent naval expeditions to  Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok to secure the large stockpiles of resources and armament both from Bolsheviks and Germans. Meanwhile the German government was reluctant to completely annex the Baltic States. Instead a plan was made to create a United Baltic Duchy that would be a German puppet state. It would be a constitutional monarchy based on the Baltic German political dominance. Its borders would include Estonia and all Latvia except Latgale. As it was part of the Russian province of Vitebsk with small German population. Lithuania as country with less German influence was allowed to proclaim independence on February 16 1918. Germans hoped to keep it under their protection, but Lithuanians projected a very nationalistic policy from the early start. On February 24 1918 Estonia declared independence, but day later Germans captured Reval (Tallinn) and chased away the German provisional government.  Finland meanwhile as autonomous part of the Russian army chased away the Bolsheviks and declared independence. Germans also considered it as ally state.

If Germany had won the Great War the Baltic States would become a formal parts of the German Empire. Supposedly sovereign but as puppet states. That did not happen as on November 11 1918 Germany was forced to sign ceasefire. The United Baltic Duchy proclaimed on November 5 1918 failed to establish a strong administration and after the German defeat lost its way. On November 18 Latvia proclaimed it independence. In Reval German troops started revolt and the Estonian government released from prison immediately started to work. The First Armistice at Compiègne included Article XII that demanded Germans to evacuate the troops from the occupied Russian lands as soon as the Allies would find an appropriate moment to do this knowing the local circumstances. Allies knew about the Bolshevik ambitions and wanted to have the German forces to keep Bolsheviks away from Western Europe. But, Germans in Latvia and Estonia had other plans as they still wanted a United Baltic Duchy. The revolutionary German provisional government was complimentary to this and supported them as discretely as possible.

Soon after the Germany had given up the war in the west, the Bolsheviks broke the peace agreement and wowed to gain back the lost lands of Baltic, Belarus and Ukraine. German army in the eastern front was broken and demoralized. The Britain and France had to make a hectic choice between German interests, the Russian Royalist White Guards and the new national republics in their struggle against the Bolsheviks. The ceasefire also allowed the allied fleet to enter the Baltic Sea first time since 1914. British government was not confident of the new Baltic States, but considered that they need to be supported from the Bolsheviks. Week after the ceasefire Estonian delegation arrived in London and asked to send troops and warships to support them The Foreign Ministry rejected sending troops, but promised to send navy and resources. British however were weary of the minefields set up all across the Baltic Sea. Bolsheviks also gathered their own Soviet Baltic Navy.

On November 21 1918 the first British Naval Squad set sail to the Baltic Sea. Under the leadership of the Counter Admiral Sir Edwyn Alexander Sinlcair the cruiser Cardiff, Cassandra,Caradoc,Ceres,Calypso, 9 squadron minehunters and 7 mine trawlers set sail to the Baltic Sea. Sailors were reluctant because they thought the war is over and wanted a long-awaited vacation. After encountering issues in Copenhagen when the coal transport ship became stranded leaving the mine trawlers without coal Sinclair  was forced to set sail to Tallinn because of the Bolshevik attack. The squadron passed the cold and stranded Liepāja and sailed towards Estonia. On December 4 across the Saaremaa island the cruiser Cassandra struck the mine. Broken in half the ship sank. 10 men died in explosion the remaining 450 were rescued by the mine hunters Westminster and Wendetta. Loosing cruiser at start of the campaign was a heavy blow. The light cruiser Calypso also had to be repaired because it collided with shipwreck in the Liepāja harbor. It took the rescued Cassadra sailors back home along with two damaged mine hunters. Despite the odds Sinclair entered troubled Tallinn. City was harmed by the food shortage, lack of coal and money. In the December cold the Red Army commanded by the Latvian colonel Jukums Vācietis captured Narva on the Russian border. Valka and Tartu also were captured.  Estonians asked British to make Estonia their protectorate and send military mission that would train the Estonian army and the small navy. The Russian Whiteguard North-west army was also in Estonia and asked British help. Sinclair rejected the white Russians because Estonians mistrusted them. Sinclair said that his navy can only stay in the Strait of Finland until it becomes frozen and the weapon transports are on the way.

Despite being asked to only make reconnaissance operations, Sinclair  understood the dangers of loosing Tallinn and started to shell the advancing Bolshevik forces. The only bridge across the Estonian border was destroyed cutting off the Bolshevik supplies from Petrograd (St. Petersburg). On December 24 Estonians begun successful counter offensive with sea landing operation at the Kunda cutting the Bolshevik lines from behind. While Bolshevik fleet stuck in Kronstadt Sinclair set sail to Liepāja to understand the Latvian needs. Bolsheviks had battleship Petropalvosk, smaller Andrej Pervozvannij and cruiser Oleg. And three submarines along with smaller ships. Their naval command was weak and the sailors were poorly trained. Most Tsarist officers were shot. Their commander was Fyodor Raskolnikov. His attempts to attack Tallinn resulted in capture of the mine hunter Spartak.

When Sinclair arrived in Liepāja he saw even more misery then in Tallinn. While in Estonia Konstantin Pats government had the majority support, the Kārlis Ulmanis government was not well received by many. Poor peasants, workers and unemployed welcomed the invading Bolsheviks. The Baltic German nobility was reluctant to support Latvians and organized their own forces. The legendary Latvian Riflemen were converted to Bolshevism and now came to Latvia to install Soviet power. Latvian government managed to organize few ill-equipped companies of students and volunteers. Meanwhile Germans formed better equipped Land Guard the Landeswehr, from the defeated German 8th Army and the Freikorps volunteers from Germany an Iron Division was formed.

The Russian Newspaper reports The English Ships are in Riga and standing right in front the Anglican Church

The Russian Newspaper reports The English Ships are in Riga and standing right in front the Anglican Church

On December 19 the British mine hunters entered Riga. The situation was even more dire than in Tallinn. Sinclair was informed by Latvian Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis that 40 000 German troops are preparing to leave Latvia for Germany. Only what was left 700 men from the Baltic German Landeswehr that was made to strengthen the Latvian army. Brits convinced Germans that they must apply to paragraph XII and stay in Latvia to hold off the Bolsheviks. Latvians were weary of the German army, but were forced to cooperate with them. Despite that German army did nothing for next five days. Bolsheviks were just 46 km from Riga. British started to load up 350 British and allied citizens on board of Princess Margaret. Then on 29 December two Latvian regiments who took retreat in Riga has risen up against the Latvian government and wanted to join the Bolsheviks. On January 3 1919 another Latvian unit went rouge. On the same day Sinclair left the harbor and took more refugees and members and supporters of the Latvian government. As the German Iron Division was defeated in Inčukalns on December 30-31 the Latvian government abandoned Riga and moved to Jelgava and then to Liepāja. The British navy left the Baltic shores and reached Rosyth on 8 December. The first naval mission had ended. It had failed to stop the Bolshevik advance in Latvia, but the Estonia and Finland were not overran leaving hope.

Admiral Walter Cowan the commander of the Royal Navy in the Baltic Sea

Admiral Walter Cowan the commander of the Royal Navy in the Baltic Sea

British Navy and Military were concerned about the fate of the Baltic States. It reported to the British government that to fight off the Bolsheviks a significantly larger expedition of land troops were needed. The British government rejected sending land troops to the Baltic States and instead again ordered to send naval mission. The Admiralty was against this. But, it assembled new squadron under the command of the Counter Admiral Walter Cowan. Cowan was one of the most experienced naval commanders of the British navy. His first combat experience was in the British Africa on 1895-1897. He also joined the land forces under the command by the Lord Kitchener  in the Nile expedition. He was awarded with the Exceptional Service  Order and then moved to South Africa. However, the Royal Navy was unimpressed of him leaving the naval service without their consent. So they wanted to cross him out of the service list. He joined navy again, but was not promoted. After marriage and honeymoon he joined the battleship cruiser Prince George of the Channel Fleet. In the age of 30 he was promoted as the commanding captain. On 1914 he as the commanding officer took part in the WWI naval battles including the Battle of Jutland. Awarded with the Order of the Bath, he was however disappointed that the battle was not won. Promoted as commodore and later as counter admiral he was sad that the war was over. When he was called to command naval mission to the Baltic Sea he was again exited.

He was instructed by the Naval command to support the British interests in the region and attack the Bolsheviks from the shores. The Baltic States had to be defended at all costs, however the support had to be only in therms of the naval support and arms shipment. Puzzled by the complicated Baltic situation Cowan set sail to Liepāja while being noted to not visit Riga or Tallinn. When he arrived to Liepāja, the Bolsheviks were just 92 km from the city. Germans were not helping instead they trowed in to sea guns supplied by the British for the Latvian forces. There was also a White Russian corps commanded by the prince Anatoly Lieven  – a member of the old noble German family. He was supportive to the Latvian state but was under the vile German command. Cowan had come to conclusion: “Latvians are powerless to help themselves”. Meanwhile the Estonian forces had chased away the Bolsheviks from their capital and moved towards Tartu and Narva. On January 25 the British were informed that the Bolsheviks were stopped along the lines of the river Venta. Latvian forces gained first victories and the German forces also reached first success. However, on January 31 the port of Ventspils was lost and Liepāja was in danger again. Cowan was asked to bombard the Bolsheviks. Their artillery batteries were destroyed and Bolsheviks fled the city. Latvian forces under the command of the colonel Oskars Kalpaks grew to 3500. Estonians agreed to form a  common front with Latvians against the Bolsheviks. And the German Major General Rüdiger von der Goltz arrived to command the German forces.

A vicious and cunning Prussian officer von der Goltz was known for his action in Finland where he helped to re-capture Helsinki from the Bolsheviks. As devout Prussian officer and nationalist he was against the Baltic independence and started to plot against the Latvians and the British. British had no idea of what danger this man could bring. On the path back to Copenhagen Cowan’s ships intercepted German cargo ship transporting unlicensed supplies to Memel (Klaipeda). It was a sign that the seemingly peace wishing Berlin government was secretly aiding the Germans in the Baltic Sea.

On February the frontline in Courland was satisfactory the Goltz forces were ready to lead the counter offensive. Latvians voiced concern about the German real intentions and Cowan was aware of this. He reported to London not to aid the Germans, but support Latvians ass possible for their need the money and support as much as possible. On February 21 first Cowan mission ended and he left, awaiting to return on Spring when the Bolshevik fleet was ready to leave their ports. British, French and US leaders were busy conducting the Versailles Treaty and saw the Baltic States as a secondary objective. The Admiralty voiced concerns on the lack of decisions and concrete stance. France had given the Baltic States under the British sphere of interests. Allies were against the Bolsheviks, but were not ready to send troops. Instead a financial and naval aid was only possible to the White forces and the new republics. Meanwhile Germany defeated in the West hoped to use their forces in the East to re-install their power there. Social-democrat government also hoped to arrange alliance with the Bolsheviks to head against the West once more. Goltz the ex imperial officer who despised the German republic was sent as the envoy of the German Eastern interests. But, Goltz wanted the power for himself and took over the Baltic States.

Liepāja on 1919

Liepāja on 1919

On March 2 the Latvian government uncovered  the documents about the coup plotted by the Baltic Germans under the leadership of von der Stryk. There was no proof of the Goltz involvement. He however moved to Stettin  (Szczecin) to avoid arrest. But, his man tried to seize weapons and ammunition on board the  steamship Saratov. British were concerned and predicted a coup d’etat by the Germans who has a strong force of 8000 man. Berlin was sending more troops than necessary. On March 6 British informed  Goltz that all supply shipments for Germans are brought to halt and no German ship may enter the Baltic ports. Goltz replied with strong statement that in such case he cannot lead the assault on the Bolsheviks and leave Latvia to its own fate.

Royal Navy decided to send new squadron to Baltic Sea. As the Bolshevik fleet was soon to be active and the Baltic States needed supplies and gun fire. The British PM Loyd George sent military and diplomatic mission. But, he was against sending large squad of the naval forces there. So Cowan with his light cruisers and ten squadron mine hunters returned to Baltic Sea. Cowan commanded the cruiser Caledon. Meanwhile Goltz had moved towards Jelgava and to avoid  the British embargo took away the food supplies for Latvian civilians in Liepāja. Cowan arrived in Liepāja and met Goltz. Insulted by the German demands to show entry permit, because of the discovered Bolshevik cell within the Golzt forces, Cowan raised concerns about the dire situation in Riga. He asked when it will be taken back. Goltz replied that he is not sure if Berlin wants him to retake Riga and that he has enough forces. He asked if he captures Riga will British would cancel the embargo. Cowan made clear if Riga was to be taken it will be supplied with food. Few days later Admiral was informed that because of the thaw all military operations has been canceled.  The roads were to no use so Riga had to wait.

On April 14 Cowan informed Goltz that the British government is ready to cancel embargo for a short time if the Germans would stop obstructing the buildup of the Latvian forces. Goltz rejected this. And he had a reason for it. Sensing the danger Cowan stayed in Liepāja. That was a wise move. On April 16 Goltz forces started a coup against the Latvian provisional government. Germans took over the Latvian command center. British learning the danger reinforced the steam ship Saratov filled with supplies for the Latvians.   Germans besieged the Latvian government office, but arrested only two ministers. Saratov moved into trade port. Ulmanis and the rest of government found refuge in the British diplomatic mission. British mine hunters arrived and stopped Germans from taking over the Trade Port. Scared off by the warnings of cannon fire, Germans left off allowing the Latvian government to  get on board the Saratov. Brits rejected Germans demands to hand over the Latvian statesmen. On same day the US military mission arrived surprised by the events and prevented the arrest of the Latvian officer.

The steam ship Saratov where the Latvian government took refuge

The steam ship Saratov where the Latvian government took refuge

German coup had backfired thanks to British action. The Latvian government had avoided the arrest, the Latvian forces disobeyed the German directory government lead by Baron Manteifel. On April 19 French navy arrived in Liepāja with gun boat Dunois and  guard ship Meuse. French captain Brison wanted to sail to Tallinn, but was convinced to stay in Liepāja to guard the city. On April 21 Goltz informed the allies that he has nothing to do with the coup, however it was necessary action to  arrest the Latvian government. Cowan demanded to call of the officers involved in the coup and release the arrested Latvian officers and MP’s. Goltz rejected and accused Ulmanis of aiding the Bolsheviks. Prince Lieven proposed to organize a Latvian coalition government of Latvians and loyal Baltic Germans. Cowan said its not the right time and convinced him to stay true to his country and try to ease the Latvian and German issues. 24 hours later London ordered him to demand to restore the Ulmanis government at once.  However, April 25 Cowan set sail to the Strait of Finland to counter the Bolshevik fleet.

Meanwhile Goltz condemned by the Allies and refusing to admit his leading part in the coup installed a new “Latvian goverment” lead by pastor Andrievs Niedra on May 10. He was rejected by majority of Latvians and the allies who asked to remove Goltz from Latvia. Berlin was irresponive. On May 15 the pro-German government ordered to attack Riga. Berlin was forced to forbid Goltz to lead his Iron Divison to Riga. Instead the Baltic Landeswehr and Latvian forces lead by General Balodis headed towards Riga. Landeswehr entered Riga first and started to terrorize and punish the Bolshevik supporters. They had reason for it as for months the Latvian Bolshevik government had repressed the Baltic Germans killing many thousands of them. The Red Terror was replaced by the White Terror. Day later Latvians arrived trying to stop the Germans from terrorizing the city. Allies were afraid of the German government rejecting the Paris Peace Treaty and Goltz forces attacking their ships and representatives and allowed Goltz to stay, but demanded Berlin to order Goltz stop all actions against Latvians. Berlin replied that the evacuation of the Goltz troops is underway and Goltz has done nothing against Latvians. For Berlin has not instructed him to do so.

The British main naval force moved to Finnish Strait were it fought the Bolshevik navy destroying their ships and trapping them in Kronstadt harbor. As Estonians were already chasing  Bolsheviks to Northern Latvia, the Tallinn was no more in danger and so as Finland. Meanwhile on the beginning of June Goltz moved to north to Vidzeme instead East to Latgale where the Bolsheviks had retreated. Estonian forces commanded by general Laidoner and the Northern Latvian army lead by colonel  Zemitāns has reached Cēsis the central part of the Vidzeme region. From the Latvian refugees in Estonia and Bolshevik deserters a large fighting force was made. Stronger than those on the western part. As Goltz forces moved towards Cēsis he was confronted by Estonians and Latvians and was defeated. Goltz retreated from Riga leaving only garrison of prince Lieven Russian troops. On June 26 Andrievs Niedra government accused of betrayal resigned. The Kārlis Ulmanis government who  spent all this time on board of the ship Saratov arrived in Riga the next day and was greeted by the cheering crowds. After the Red and White Terror Latvian majority finally accepted the democratic government.

The Latvians and Estonians had enough troops to completely destroy the Iron Division. But, the allied powers still wanted them to be used against the Bolsheviks. On July 3 the Strazdumuiža ceasefire was signed. Estonians draw back. The landeswehr Baltic German commander was replaced by the Irish Guard Junior Colonel Harold Alexander the future field Marshall of the North African British forces on WW2. He however had no German knowledge so he was assisted by baron Taube. Goltz was demanded to evacuate all his forces from Latvia as soon as possible. And to leave Riga at end of the July 5. He did that and moved to Jelgava. Germans withdraw their forces also from Ventspils and Liepāja. But, few could imagine that Goltz will give up.

British warships again entered Riga. Goltz was defiant both to Berlin and the Allies and delayed the evacuation of his troops still concentrated in the large parts of the country. Cowan and main fleet was concentrated on battles with the Bolshevik fleet. He led the raid on the Bolshevik war port destroying three warships Petrapavlosk, Andrej Pervozvannij and Pamatj Azova. The Bolshevik Baltic Fleet was sunken, but the British government was unimpressed as  they secretly planned to remove their troops from Arhangelsk and gave up the intervention. But, the main Bolshevik attack force was no more danger to Finns and Estonians.

From July to October it was relative peace in Latvia. Moscow Bolsheviks endangered by the White offensives wanted to give up the Baltic States So there was stalemate on the Latvian Eastern front. Meanwhile in Jelgava Goltz had not evacuated his forces. Making many excuses he delayed the evacuation and accused Latvians of attacking his forces. On April 1919 a plot was born to assemble the Russian WWI POW’s from the camps in Germany to form a White Guard army under German leadership. One part of them were sent to Courland. Their leader was phony Russian colonel Pavel Bemondt- Avalov. A adoptive of the Georgian noble, he started as musical conductor for the Russian cossacks. On 1914 he was Lancer captain. After being captured by Ukrainian nationalists and when released he moved to Germany.

The eccentric  Georgian “count” was only the front of the Goltz plot to strike again. His Western Russian Volunteer Army included all the Goltz Iron Division and The German Freikorps. German soldiers had to wear Russian imperial insignia. His force was well equipped with armored vehicles and warplanes.  Bermondt declared that his objective is to head to Russia and assist General Yudenich. And then on October 8 his planes dropped few bombs on Riga. The attack had begun. 17 000 Bermontd troops with 65 cannons and 24 airplanes, two armored trains faced 11 300 Latvian men with 9 cannons, 23 heavy machine guns, 2 armored trains, 2 armored vehicles and few warplanes

Cowan was still in the Finnish Strait. Cruiser Phanteon led by captain Curtis along with ships Aisne and Abideil was stationed in Riga. Along them the French ships. British ships was instructed to hold fire, but were caught in the fire exchange. Latvians secured the bridges and prevented Germans from crossing them. Germans had problems using their artillery to not hit the British ships. Cowan did not sail to Riga himself. He sent cruisers Dragoon, Cleopatra and Princess Margaret. Germans asked Brits to leave for they are standing in front of their artillery range.  Brits showed the Yudenich proclamation condemning Bermont and excluding from the White Guards. On October 13 French captain asked Cowen to start shelling the Daugavgrīva fortress so the Latvians can regain them, for the Germans are firing their ships.

Allied ships in Daugava. From the movie Lāčplēsis 1919

Allied ships in Daugava. From the movie Lāčplēsis 1919

On October 15 the Allied ships opened fire on the Daugavgrīva fortress. Latvians started to cross river Daugava to chase away Germans from left side of the river. Bermontd expressed confusion about the White Guard army fighting the Bolsheviks are bombarded by the  allies. He was replied that he is no White Guard as the General Yudenich does not recognize him. From October 15 to November 11 the allied warships continued to bombard the Bermondt army greatly assisting Latvian army. On November 3 a counter attack begun and on November 11 the Battle of Riga was won. Estonians sent one armored train. So the main fighting was done by Latvians themselves. But, the artillery fire from the British ships was a major supporting factor.

British ships also helped Latvians to defend Liepāja. Bermontd forces were unable to capture the important war harbor. After the victory in Riga the Bermontd forces were chased away from Latvia. It took a month for them to leave Lithuania. On December the defeated Bolshevik Baltic Fleet was again ice kept in the harbor. On February 2 1920 Estonia signed Peace Agreement. Latvian and Polish forces chased Bolsheviks from Latgale on January 1920.  Later on August 11 peace agreement was reached. The Allied Naval mission in the Baltic Sea had reached its end. The Bolsheviks in the Baltic States were defeated, Germans pushed away, Latvia and Estonia had reached independence. Petrograd or now known as Leningrad was captured and their fleet despite greatly damaged was still alive. But, Cowan and his allied commanders had made a great deal with their limited resources. Great Britain and France recognized Latvia de iure on 1921 January 26.

Cemetery for the British sailors in Jelgava

Cemetery for the British sailors in Jelgava

Cowan continued his military carrier on 1921 he became the captain of the famous battleship Hood. On 1923 he was appointed as the commanding officer of the Scottish Coast guard.   He was promoted as admiral on 1926 and ended his carrier as the first adjutant of King George V. On 1929 he was retired on the age of 59. When WW2 begun 70-year-old Cowan rushed to ask Admiralty for the job. He ended up in North Africa front and took part in the combat actions. On 1944 he left the military for good as one of the oldest serving officer in the British Army. He was also promoted as honorary colonel. The old man was most happy of such decoration and moved back to England. He died on 1956. As valiant naval officer and a great commander Cowan expressed great sympathies for the Latvians and Estonians and his leadership was crucial for the success of the Allied naval mission in the Baltic Sea.

Selected Sources:

Geoffrey Bennett (2002) Freeing the Baltic. Birlinn Ltd. Latvian translation Atbrīvojot Baltiju 1919-1920. (2012) Rīga. Zvaignze ABC

Juris, Ciganovs. (2013) Latvijas Neatkarības Karš 1918-1920. Rīga. Zvaignze ABC.

Latvijas Brīvības Cīņas. Enciklopēdija (1999) Riga. Preses Nams

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Gustavs Klutsis

Klutsis and his project for the Higher State Art and Technical workshop exhibition stand  1924-1926

Klutsis and his project for the Higher State Art and Technical workshop exhibition stand 1924-1926

Gustavs Klutsis (Klucis) was one of the most famous Soviet artists from XX century twenties. His brilliant constructivist art and impressive soviet propaganda posters has made a historic legacy. Gustavs Klucis was Latvian, born in Latvia. As many young Latvians he was caught by the First World War and ended up in Revolutionary Russia. He became a passionate communist believing his experimental avant-garde art has place in the new socialist country. He also believed that his propaganda art is in within the lines of the soviet politics and ideology. In the end he became the victim of his own beliefs and was sentenced to death by his own regime. Yet, his art outlived him and is popular today. He is not forgotten in Latvia. This year at the art exhibition hall Arsenal a large collection of his works were displayed. A worldwide known   Latvian artist that has the place in the Latvian history.

Klutsis was born on 4 (16) January 1895 in the Valmiera district Koņu parish. A Latvian family, father Gustavs and Mother Ede. He had two elder brothers Jānis and Ādams, and four sisters Elīze, Ieva, Klāra and the youngest Alvīne. He was baptized in the Rūjiena Lutheran church. On 1905  his father died in accident. Family was left without breadwinner and Gustavs had work in the farming and go to school at winters. On that same year the revolution in Russia broke out and came to Latvia. His brother Jānis took part in the rebellion and was arrested and sentenced 15 years penal prison. No doubt this affected young Gustavs political worldview. From 1909 to 1911 he took studies in the Rūjiena pro-gymnasium.

The Attack. The Latvian Rifleman. 1918

The Attack. The Latvian Rifleman. 1918

Despite desire to study arts, do to the lack of money he came to Valmiera Teachers seminary on 1912. On 1913 he started studies in the Riga City Art School. The director of the school was Vilhelms Purvītis a well known Latvian artist – landscape painter. He attended the school till 1915 when the war came to Riga. He was conscripted in the 9th Latvian Riflemen regiment. Eventually he came to Russia and witnessed the February Revolution and later the October Bolshevik Coup. He joined the Red Latvian Riflemen guard to defend the Bolshevik Government at the Smolny Institute and served as machine gunner. When the Bolshevik government moved to Moscow he was defending the train used by Vladimir Lenin and his henchmen. This closeness to the heart of the Bolshevik revolution boosted his beliefs. He met Lenin at the Kremlin garden and had a talk. When off duty he used to write sketches of him. There in Moscow his artistic carrier had begun. His first work featuring the photo-montage technique was called “The Attack. The Latvian Rifleman” on 1918. Later he employed the photo-montage at full scale.

Painting  from the Dynamic City project.

Painting from the Dynamic City project.

Gustavs Klutsis and Kazimir Malevich on 1933

Gustavs Klutsis and Kazimir Malevich on 1933

But before that he was involved in the supermatism and contructivism. He begun work at the Second Free State Art School (SFSTAS) workshop. It was lead by Kazimir Malevich the author of the revolutionary Black Square painting on  1915.  Malevich soon left the SFSTAS and was replaced by Anthon (Nathan) Pevzner. However, Malevich left impression on Klutsis. Malevich wrote a book about the new artistic systems and connected supermatism with cosmic spaces. His ideas about connection between two cosmic bodies – Earth and Moon that rush trough the space – the possibility of making a new supermatistic satellite that would enter its orbit creating his own new way. With its contacts lost with Earth it can be studied and researched as any new system.  Klutsis got this idea and started working on the Dynamic City project. Kazimir Malevich created The Black Circle painting that was used further by Klutsis as his dynamic cities grew out the circles with skyscrapers and constructive futuristic forms. The paintings involved photo-montage.

Klutsis wife Valentina Kulagina 1920

Klutsis wife Valentina Kulagina 1920

In the winter of 1919 he met his love of the lifetime Valentina Kulagin. A Muscovite artist she accompanied his artistic efforts and stayed faithful until his death. On 1920 he joined the Communist Party and came to Artistic Culture Institute (ACI). He kept his connections with Malevich who was residing in Vitebsk. His art became more constructive and formalistic as he has preoccupied with complicated structures. It went well with Soviet Union in those days when it was a giant laboratory of ideas and structures. He called his art as a experimental laboratory. One of his most interesting constructions where the Radio Operator towers – futuristic weird looking structures. Only few were made and photographed.

Klustis Radio Operator installation project 1922

Klustis Radio Operator installation project 1922

The constructions made by Klutsis

The constructions made by Klutsis

The constructivim soon entered the political posters. Klutsis had no problem of becoming a political agitator – instead he made the posters as art. Photo-montage first regarded only as small artistic element became the core of his posters. First posters including photo-montage came out in 1927. Already recognized as a great artist, his posters became famous within the Union. The avant-garde collages involving workers, soldiers and his idol Lenin as the central figure, the formation of the figures were impressive and mesmerizing. One of the most famous posters the 1928 Gym and Sports dedicated to Sparticide sports with brilliant photo-montage scheme of jumping swimmers was great example of his art.

Sketch for the poster "We dont need hysterical flows, but the calm joining of the iron battalions of the proletariat in to the party" Lenin 1924-1925

Sketch for the poster “We dont need hysterical flows, but the calm joining of the iron battalions of the proletariat in to the party” Lenin 1924-1925

He also designed expressive decorations for the soviet exhibitions in foreign countries. One of them in Belgium was vandalized by far right anti communists. Various expressive avant-garde pavilions and exhibition stands were made and projected during twenties. He also made stage decorations for the satirical theater play “Bourgeoisie Latvia”. He had lost all  connections with his birthplace and regarded it as any other capitalist country. Latvia was no stranger to avant-garde art it had its own modern art society. As  the modern art was condemned by the conservative nationalist Latvians, these artists were mostly leftists. During the twenties and thirties the modern art was often regarded as a communist thing because it challenged the traditional art as much as the communists challenged the capitalist order.

Stage decoration sketch for the satirical play "Bourgeois Latvia"

Stage decoration sketch for the satirical play “Bourgeois Latvia”

At the late twenties the power in the Soviet Union was consolidated by Joseph Stalin. One of his first grand projects to change the country as the introduction of the five year plan. A move to centralize the countries economy by bringing up mass industrialization and collectivize the farming economy.  For such radical and painful moves a influx of a mass propaganda was needed. And that is where Klutsis and his posters came in. The first five year plan was started on 1928. Klutsis worked with the IZGOIZ – the state art publisher. It ordered the posters and censured them. From 1929 to 1937 more than 50 posters made by Klutsis were issued. Working with collage, experimenting with photo equipment he could change the size of the objects, combine the negatives. He looked for the objects and  people in the newspapers, books, took the pictures of himself. With the equipment of XX century thirties he made the poster even better then now with the use of the digital software. His posters featured industrial themes, workers, factories and Lenin himself as the ideological leader. In one 1930 poster Lenin was shown with Stalin, but Lenin still overshadowed rather   obscure looking face of Stalin. With the omnipresent expressive red color combined with the black and white picture the posters showed the dynamism of the five year plan. Complete unity as shown in the Worker and the Worker woman with multiple hands raised up and one large hand. The largest hand belonged to Stalin the – leader. But in reality this was the hand of Klutsis taken for this poster. With his photo technique he changed the size of the had making a impressive poster.

Worker and the Worker woman all to elections! 1930

Worker and the Worker woman all to elections! 1933

Collage of the Klutsis posters

Collage of the Klutsis posters

On October 26 1932 Stalin attended the writers meeting at the  Maxim Gorky residence. He said one of his well known phrases that “the artists are the engineers of the human soul”. It was a signal to increase the propaganda towards the peoples minds to convert them completely to the new Stalinist order. Stalin was no longer a mere shadow of the Lenin in the Klutsis posters, he was the grand figure of everything. Stalin was walking with the workers a thing he would never do in reality. The USSR was called as the strike brigade of the worldwide proletariat. Red banner raised above the red globe was the ambition of Klutsis and Stalin himself. A grandiose poster showing gigantic serious Stalin overseeing the factories with the slogan “The Victory of Socialism in our country is achieved! The Fundament of the Socialist Economy has been made!” The god like figure of Stalin filled with strife and anger showed him just as the way he wanted to look like. Other poster sketch showing Stalin smiling with the pipe in his mouth was never released. Stalin was to be feared not loved. As the Stalin’s favorite author Machiavelli had once formulated – leader should be feared in order to be loved. But the Stalin was not the only communist god. In the Soviet Holy Trinity there is three gods – Lenin, Stalin and Karl Marx the prophet of the socialist revolution. And in the poster of 1933 Karl Marx is overlooking the entire planet with a masses of proletarians. Behind a landscape of broken factories the slogan says “The goal of the Union is the destruction of the Bourgeois” It was indeed the Stalin’s policy after the socialism in one county was achieved the Soviet Union will bring the socialism worldwide. In other 1933 poster the armed proletarians are united under red flags of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. Klutsis was still romanticized by the October revolution his scenes with fighting workers were still in line with the Lenin and Trotsky ideas. But it was not according with Stalin’s conception – the worldwide socialist revolution was to be achieved with tanks and bombers.

1935 Klutsis poster- Glory to Red Army

1935 Klutsis poster- Glory to Red Army

On 1935 Klutsis made one his most famous posters- Glory to the Red Army! Gigantic Stalin and Commander in Chief General Voroshilov overlooks the  parade of tanks in the Red Square. Together with bombers the might of the Red Army was shown in scale. The intention to start a new world war was clearly seen. Another 1932 picture shows the Soviet youth with guns behind the masses of marching army towards the victory. Two young soviet boys showing concrete faces, but girl in the middle smiles. A rather naive smile, these people few years later will fight in the front lines. But there is one thing we should notice in the 1935 poster. It no longer features photo-montage, instead all the figures are drawn. Drawn realistically. Onward from 1935 the new soviet art style was the “socialist realism”. It had no place for the expresionism, avant-guarde, and especially formalism. The formalists were condemned. The new realist was actually a neoclassicism. A kind of art enjoyed by Adolf Hitler who himself once made realistic paintings. Nazis condemned the modernist art. Their posters were grandiose but realistic. Stalin in many ways impressed by the Nazi Germany also followed suit. It is no wonder many soviet posters have so much in common with the Nazi posters. It was the same reactionary conservative art style calling for complete unification of the society and the world domination. It was the art of complete totalitarianism a totalitarianism that will destroy Klutsis.

Klutsis again remembered his Latvian roots.  Before his relations with the Latvian Soviet diaspora was rather awkward. Now the socialist realism demanded to show the life’s of the ordinary soviet citizens, also nationalities. He joined Latvian cultural society “Prometejs” (Prometheus). By their orders he to the Latvian settlements in Russia and Ukraine and depict the Latvian soviet citizens. The shock workers or stahanovians as they were called and the landscapes. All of them were painted in the realistic way. His photo-montage posters were no longer needed. On 1936 he also tasked to research the Latvian signs and traditional arts. However, there was no good sources for this task. In order to create ethnographic album for the Latvians in the Soviet Union, Klutsis used the ladies journal Zeltene (Lass) from Latvia. Klutsis was not interested in the national value of the Latvian signs of symbols he was interested in their form and precision. He however, made a large research work.  In his free time he made paintings of buildings and landscapes.

On 1937 he was in Paris, France for a few weeks. He attended the International Contemporary Art and Technic Exhibition. His task was to guide to creation of the photo exhibit in one of the Soviet pavilion halls. All the best Soviet artists were gathered there to show the might of the Soviet art. He was still needed, but not for long. Stalin was directing his country towards the great war. Massive repressions towards the old elite of communists from the days of the October revolution were issued in full scale. Latvians were considered as spies of the capitalist Latvia, in his war against the capitalist world they could no longer be trusted. Stalin ordered the extermination of the Latvian communists and public personalities – like Klutsis. He was too well known and no longer regarded as a genius artist. On January 17 1938 he was arrested as a member of a fascist Latvian nationalists. A accusation unimaginable for still passionate communist Klutsis. On February 26 by the protocol No. 128 of the February 11 issued by the Peoples Commissar of the Interior Affairs he shot at the Butovo polygon near Moscow. Butovo became the graveyard of thousands of Latvians killed by the Great Purge.

Gustavs Klutsis arrest picture January 1938

Gustavs Klutsis arrest picture January 1938

His wife Valentina Kulagina and son Edvards were spared. Only in 1989 Edvards found out what happened with his father. He was erased from the Soviet history for decades. Then on 1959 in Riga the deputy director of the Latvian and Russian Art Museum (now Latvian National Art Museum) Artūrs Eglītis wanted to bring Klutsis paintings to Latvia. It was the time when the Red Latvian Riflemen were again included in the Soviet propaganda. Without  mentioning what happened to them in 1937-1938 it was accepted to display the Soviet Latvian art. Together with Klutsis, the works of Aleksandrs Drēviņs, Kārlis Veidemanis, Voldemārs Andersons,  Vilhelm Jabub and Paul Irbītis were displayed for the first time in decades. After the end of the exhibit the Klutsis wife Valentina Kulagina presented the museum with of more than 350 Klutsis works. Also the Latvian SSR Ministry of Culture bought tens of more of his works and his personal archive. The Latvian and Russian Arts Museum and the Revolution Museum (now War Museum) got hold of enormous collection of Klutsis work. He was again remembered in other parts of the world and after 1991 Latvian National Art Museum displayed his works at the guest exhibits.    His works were also displayed in Soviet Union. Novadays Klutsis works are popular object of the Soviet art and history.  The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony featured references to Klutsis propaganda works.

Gustavs Klutsis was one of the best artists in the Soviet Union. A true example in the constructivism and photo-montage. Unfortunately his communist beliefs did not live up the politics of Joseph Stalin. No doubt Klutsis would follow Stalin’s change of politics with greatest enthusiasm if the chance have been given. Instead he was shot along with other common minded Latvians betrayed by their beloved leader. But, his art has outlived his short life and preserved a never ending legacy of one of the most known Latvian born artists.

Selected Sources:

Derkusova, Iveta, Tsantsanoglou, Maria, Yates, Steve. (2014) Gustavs, Klutsis. Anatomy of an Experiment. Riga. Latvian National Arts Museum.

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Latvian Parliamentary Elections 2014

Next Saturday October 4 Latvia will held elections for 12th Saeima the – Latvian parliament. Last elections took place 3 years ago on September 17 2011. They were emergency elections since former president of Latvia Valdis Zatlers dismissed the parliament and it was approved by the voters in the poll. In Latvia to dismiss the parliament a referendum is needed to approve the president decision. So the 11th Saeima was result of the Presidential Decree Nr.2. The results of this decree was varying. The pro-Kremlin party Harmony Center gained 31 vote majority. Valdis Zatlers with his Reform party came in second with 26 seats, leaving past leaders Unity (Vienotība) with 20 seats. The National Alliance and Green Farmers Union also made it. However, Harmony Center could not run the government and was left. in opposition. The Unity PM candidate Valdis Dombrovskis resumed his office and held the coalition together with Zatlers Reform Party and National Union. Green Farmers accused of being led by oligarch major of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs was thrown in to opposition. As it was one of the main election slogans to get rid of the oligarch parties. On November 27 after Maxima supermarket disaster Valdis Dombrovskis resigned and government was formed by Laimdota Straujuma from Unity. This time the Green Farmers came back in coalition, as the Reform Party was in path to disintegration. Indeed Zatler’s vision on his Decree Nr.2 had failed. At the first day after forming government his six elected members left the party. Zatlers was not elected as Chairman of Saeima and was assigned to lead the National Security Commission. His two most ambitious reformers Roberts Ķīlis Minister of Education and Edmunds Sprūdžs the Minister of Environmental Protection and Regional Development failed to achieve his goals and resigned. As Zatlers became sick with cancer he lost the direction of his party and in result the party was disbanded. His most successful members joined either Unity or National Alliance. So in these elections one of the leaders of the 2011 elections will not stand. But 13 parties will stand in 2014 elections so this article will describe who are the main contestants, what they offer and what they have done.

Unity (Vienotība)

Unity for last 5 years have been known as the leading party in the Latvian politics. From 2009 to 2014 Valdis Dombrovskis lead the country as the Prime Minister. His consequent approach on getting country out of the economic crisis was not without difficulties and protests, but in the end he came in history as the one man who brought Latvia to Eurozone on 2014. He survived the Saeima dismissals and coalition rumbles, but the Maxima Supermarket disaster on November 21 2013 made him resign to take the political responsibility. He was replaced by Laimdota Straujuma a Minister of Agriculture a rather silent personality to Latvian public and media. At first it seemed that Artis Pabriks from Unity a popular Minister of Defense would take the PM office. As the Russian aggression in Ukraine was looming he seemed obvious choice. However, President of Latvia Andris Bērziņš turned him down and instead named Laimdota Straujuma as the Prime Minister. She was chosen as compromise person that would lead the country until next elections. Now she is the candidate for PM from Unity again, but she does not exclude the possibility to give PM seat to another Unity member such as Andris Piebalgs   European Commissioner for Development at the European Commission. Straujuma is pragmatic and careful person, however sometimes she shows timidly and lack of concrete stance when regarding the security and international affairs. As Pabriks and Dombrovskis is now in EU Parliament the two past leaders are not on the election list.

The Unity election list leaders are Straujuma, Solvita Āboltiņa chairman of the Saeima, Edgars Rinkēvičs the Foreign Affairs Minister, Anrijs Matīss and Jānis Reirs in four election districts. Solvita Āboltiņa has been the chairman since 2010. She has been described as the Red Cardinal of the Latvian politics not just because of her red hair. A master of the salon politics she has great influence on coalition work and assigning important offices. A question yet remains if her backdrop politics serves good for her party and our country.

Unity has accumulated many former Reform Party front-runners. Edgars Rinkēvičs a professional and responsible Minister of Foreign Affairs  has shown strong supportive stance towards Ukraine and has reacted venerable national stance towards aggressive Russian policy against Latvia. Rihards Kozlovskis a Minister of Interior Affairs another ex reformist despite many issues has lead the Interior security carefully. His main issues are constant underfunding of the police force, slow investigation of the Maxima disaster and problems with Latvian Secret Services who are accused over lack of actions regarding the countries security. Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis an ex reformist took the office of education and now serves as Minister of Economy is a professional politician. His weak side is rather questionable relations with her adviser Anna Kononova an ex press secretary of the Riga Town Council. Not only the fact that she worked with pro-Kremlin Major Nils Ušakovs for many years, but also because of rumors about “too close” relations between her and Dombrovskis. Indeed this was not the only case in past 3 years when ministers and their advisers became too close and state issues may have been decided in bed.

 Apart from that the Unity has many pros and cons to be voted to rule for next five years. Being ruling party for five years has made a bit like its past rival Peoples Party, a desire to control every aspect of the state affairs, arrogance and intrigue – all that naturally comes when opposition party becomes the ruling party. Also the sacrifice of two most strongest leaders – Artis Pabriks and Valdis Dombrovskis is a great cost. Artis Pabriks showed greet effort towards national security in his long-term as the Minister of Defense. In the time of international crisis around, Latvia lacks strong leaders. The President Andris Bērziņš and Laimdota Straujuma lacks significantly towards the leaders of Estonia and Lithuania. So if Unity really wants to rule the country during these rough times, it should set intrigues and ambitions aside especially within the inside the party.

That same can be said about the National Alliance. Formed from two national conservative forces – For Fatherland and Freedom and All for Latvia the party has grown more powerful in last two elections. But, the party has been plagued by the scandals and controversy. Its have been the champion of the minister resignations and unfilled threats to bring down the government if their demands are not met. The Minister of Culture posh businessman Žaneta Jaunzeme-Grende who viewed this sector rather from financial side  then cultural, got in endless conflicts with various players of the sector. The most hardest player was the Latvian National Opera. Despite having worldwide reputations, best opera singers on the world stage, the opera experienced financial issues. Grende’s attempts to address the issue ended with bitter conflict with the opera director Andrejs Žagars. In the both Žagars and Grende was fired from  their office. She was replaced by long time ministry employee and professional Dace Melbārde who now runs from NA as the front-runner.

Because of the Reform’s Parties demise the Ministry of Regions and Environment was handed over to NA. Einārs Cilinskis a veteran in nationalist politics took over the office and was quickly dismissed because he disobeyed the PM. On March 16 the annual remembrance of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion took place. Because the “referendum” in Crimea took place on the same time, there was fear from Russian provocations. Straujuma warned no state official to take part in the commemorative march in the city center. Cilinskis who always participated in the event came anyway and was fired. He was replaced by Romāns Naudiņš a businessman who failed to gain allowance for the state secrets.

More gloom was the NA leadership over the Justice. Gaidis Bērziņš with experience in this field resigned after he refused to discuss the Jewish property restitution. Was this just a cover up reason to hide his corrupt dealings with Ventspils reminds a speculation. He was replaced by Jānis Bordāns. Bordāns did not re activate the Jewish property problem, instead he even attended some of the Jewish events such as concerts or Holocaust events. But, his main issue was the insolvency reform. It started to became clear that insolvency sector had great influence on NA. Many of the insolvency lawyers were the members of the party. As insolvency sector sometimes proved to be corrupt and unlawful, Bordāns tried to reform by introducing changes in the law. He was then excluded from his own party and asked to resign. The official reason was his close ties with Democratic Patriots society that wanted to became a party. He was accused of insubordination. The real reason as said by many was because he stepped on the parties interests. As the insolvency business has a shallowly grip on the party. However, as only the PM can ask minister to resign, Bordāns stayed in the office until Dombrovskis government resigned.  Left without party and ministry Bordāns raced to create his own New Conservative Party. That however seems  to be an ill fated choice as his new political force has less chance to reach above 5% barrier.

The new Straujuma government assigned NA leader of the Riga Town Council opposition Baiba Broka. She quickly dismissed all the proposed changes in insolvency – no wonder as her professional past was associated with it. But, then a grave problem came- she did not received permit to access the state secret from Constitutional Defense Bureau (SAB). SAB a top counter intelligence agency refused to explain why, so Broka resigned. A path reached the start again as Gaidis Bērziņš took the office again. If NA wants to lead the Justice sector further it must explain the voters the controversy over its problems with insolvency sector.

Another thing to explain for NA is why its front leaders Raivis Dzinars and Imants Parādnieks from All for Latvia has refused and continue to  refuse to take important offices. Instead the minister seats are allocated to For Fatherland and Freedom old timers and people from outside like Žanete Jaunzeme-Grende. Their PM candidate is EU parliament deputy Roberts Zīle another old-timer, who will rather stay at Brussels than really take over the country. As Baiba Broka who seemed a good candidate for  PM has demised from the scene the question of leadership from NA is important. Another question- if one of the All for Latvia ideologues Jānis Iealnieks, who is known for his dubious remarks about Norway massacre on 2011, and love for Christmas ginger bread swastikas will not cause embarrassment on the international scene.

Green Farmers Union was on high heels on 2010 when it formed a powerful two-party coalition with Unity. A year later Valdis Zatlers declared a crusade against oligarchy. His hit list was Ainārs Šlesers, Andris Šķēļe and Aivars Lembergs. Lembergs a oil business tycoon, a major of port city Ventspils for 20 years is also on trial for state-wide fraud. His Venstpils Party is also part of the Green Farmer Alliance. After 2011 election the party lost its power and came only with 13 seats and was dropped into opposition.  Lembergs who was stripped from his administrative powers continued to lead the  Venstpils city and was victorious in the 2013 municipal elections. Reformist Edmunds Spūdžs tried to legally oust him from the office, but failed.

After Dombrovskis resign, Green Farmers came back to coalition and took over the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Welfare. A rather exotic choice was to assign a Green Party leader Raimonds Vējonis as the Minister of Defense. The ex minister of Environment affected by the Ukrainian crisis begun to make calls for boosting the military budget, buy a new equipment and prepare for war.   Meanwhile Lembergs openly criticized the NATO, wrote open letter to NATO leadership about the bad behavior of the NATO sailors in Ventspils. He was then condemned by Vējonis. But, in the end Lembergs was again put forward as PM candidate.  With promise to end constant “obeying” to EU and NATO.

Harmony Center (“Saskaņas Centrs”), the main force of the Russian speaking community and leftist forces now enters as the Socialdemocrat Party “Harmony”. For years its main line that they are social democrats, that stood not just for Russians, but for all people in Latvia. Meanwhile the PM candidate Nils Ušakovs enjoys a posh lifestyle, spends the administrative resources for his political rallies and has led the state capital with deficit for many years. Ušakovs played significant role on 2012 two state language referendum of which he endorsed. His endorsement for referendum organized by Russian national radicals boosted massive support for the two state language movement. The referendum failed as 80% voted no, but Ušakovs achieved disharmony rather than harmony. When Latvia joined EU sanctions against Russia, and Russia in return banned the import of EU products, Ušakovs agonized over the closure of the Riga food store in Moscow. He blamed the Latvian government and went to Moscow to “beg” not to close the Rizhkij Dvorik completely. In process he met the Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kiril II. Also in the interview with the liberal Russian TV Dozhd he said that Vladimir Putin is the best one for Latvia, as if he would be replaced by Alexei Navalny who would be danger to the neighboring countries. Since Putin’s invasion in Ukraine, such talk seems ridiculous. Some 2 years ago placing Vladmir Zhirinovsky or the Russian ultra nationalists as scare crow not to replace Putin seemed to work. Now it does not work anymore. Harmony Center has failed to state what is happening in Ukraine and why they have association agreement with Putin’s United Russia party.  So they cannot no longer hide that they are pro-Kremlin party.

There is another pro Kremlin party that does not even hide it. Latvia Russian Union the ex Party for Equal Human Rights in Latvia, has taken the ultra nationalist spirit currently in Russia.  Their leader Tatjana Ždanoka a EU parliamentary deputy went to Crimea as “independent observer” for the Crimean referendum. A supporter of the Eastern Ukrainian “separatists”, she even went to Scotland to compare their legal referendum to Crimea one. The candidates of this party constantly warns  the voters of impeding Crimea in Latvia, if they would not be elected. Latvian Russian speakers are no strangers to Russian nationalist propaganda. There are many people here that would greet the Russian tanks in the same way some people greeted tanks in Crimea.

Ingūna’s Sudraba’s party is the biggest question and intrigue of this election. An ex State Controller, outspoken critic of the state funding and state policy after leaving the office her political future was in question. She was named as a potential PM candidate from the Harmony Center. Her connections with the Russian Secret Service was in question for many years. Then on same day when Dombrovskis resigned she came out with announcement to enter politics and form her own party. When she learned the news that Dombrovskis has resigned she fainted. That was just the beginning of her political crash course. Her new party is called  To Latvia with Heart “No Sirds Latvijai”. Party issues rather leftist messianic ideology to free Latvia from poverty and injustice. Her party gained large funding from unclear sources. Many of her party front-runners left the party because of the secrecy of the funding sources. If that was not enough Sudraba’s connections with Russian radicals and Russian agents popped up on the news one by another. Sudraba denied every each accusation as black PR. Even a video where she goes to private plane that belongs to Russian FSB agent, she denied that she is in that video. And then even more bizarre discovery was unrelieved yesterday. She has connections with a spiritual center “DVS Urantija” that preaches that Putin is a “child of the light” who fights against reptilians and grays. A kind a popular conspiracy theory in Russia, that describes that USA and EU is lead by aliens, and Russia is the only remaining spiritual country that fights of this invasion. That could explain rather messianic feel of Sudraba election campaign. As Bible has warned of the danger of a False Prophet, the Orthodox baptized Sudraba should bear the warning.

There are other more  smaller political parties, that could reach the 5% barrier. The ex Unity politician Einārs Repše has made political pro business movement (For the Development of Latvia) Latvijas Attīstībai. His second comeback seems rather doubtful as people had enough his time in politics and his liberal pro business utopia does not fit today reality.  Regional Alliance (Reģionu Apvienība) is formed from politicians within Latvian towns and municipalities. While their main  place of advance is the Municipal elections they hope to gain seats in the Parliament to affect local politics. That remains in the hands of the voters. Meanwhile Ainārs Šlesers a political veteran has never missed a chance to take place in elections. His last two elections was a failure, but it seems that a man has constant election frenzy. This  time he comes with party United for Latvia (Vienoti Latvijai). And he comes together with old timers PM Ivars Godmanis, Aigars Kalvītis, Jānis Jurkāns and others. Will people vote for the symbols of the old pre-crisis times, a times of spending corruption- Šlesers might also guess the answer – no. But, what is elections without Šlesers and friends?

Without mentioning the small fringe party lists, this concludes the story of the election contestants. This might be the most important elections in our history for decades. Will the right-wing Latvian parties keep the power and unite against the common enemy in Russia? Or the pro-Kremlin parties under “spiritually guided” Inguna Sudraba will take over? So all Latvian readers are urged to vote and make their votes responsible. The following weeks will be crucial for our country. Another west and east choice will take place. As Latvia is on the frontline of the New Cold War, the Latvia must choose between our independence and security or a Latvian Maidan.

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The Battle of More September 26-October 6 1944

Memorial stone for the fallen of the Battle of More

Memorial stone for the fallen of the Battle of More

70 years ago in Vidzeme region 3 Latvian 19th Waffen SS legion grenadier regiments along with 2 artillery regiments faced enormous Soviet offensive heading towards Riga. For five long days and nights the Latvian men fighting within the German lines stopped the attacks by superior Soviet forces. This battle was crucial for complete German evacuation from Northern Latvia and then Riga. If the soviets had managed  to break trough the German lines, Riga would face street battles and resort to destruction. Today Latvian army is using the history of this battle as example for operational and tactical training. Therefore as we mark 70 year anniversary of this important event this article will discuss it in detail. Despite the 19th division technically fighting on the German side in the article the Latvian units will be called as Latvians, because these were formed from the Latvian soldiers. Same approach would be taken describing Latvians fighting on the Soviet Army lines.

Soviet advance in the Baltic region 1944

Soviet advance in the Baltic region 1944

On September 1944 Soviets after breaking trough Belarus in Summer, had taken over Eastern Latvia, Rēzekne and Daugavpils. For a short time soviets had managed to make a gap between Riga and Courland by reaching Tukums and Jelgava from Lithuanian side. Germans eventually cleared off this threat for soviets had no proper resources to hold this gap and Soviets on the Vidzeme front had tough time capturing towns of Alūksne and Cesvaine. But Soviets were determined to capture Riga and gathered large forces to do this. Germans meanwhile devised Operation Aster to retreat from Estonia to Vidzeme to Riga and to Courland without major casualties. On September 17  Soviets attacked Tallinn and were confused by the orderly retreating Germans. As Germans retreated to Vidzeme, Northern Latvia Soviets chased the Germans, but failed to disrupt their retreat and faced great causalities. On September 25 Soviets reached Sigulda line.

Along with Germans the Latvian Waffen SS 19th division was retreating inland. Many of these man were conscripted, some of them joined the legion freely. Germans never wanted to add non-German soldiers to their armies at the first place. However, after the tides of war turned against them they started to form non-German units among the Waffen SS lines. While technically being auxiliary legions both the Latvian and Estonian legions were made overly from conscripts. As Latvia was occupied in 1940 by the Soviets, many Latvians wanted to rather fight with Germans against the Soviets to prevent another soviet occupation. Despite bearing the fact that Germany cannot win the war, and Germans had no regards for the Latvian independence, Latvians still hoped for the positive turn of events to their side. Latvian soldiers were highly trained in the spirit of the past Latvian army and still had great morale to defend their homeland.

The 19th division on September 25 was stationed at the village of Nītaure where it arrived after withdrawal from Lubāna on August 3. On September 25 the divisional HQ received order to leave Nītaure prior to to occupying the final defense line at More. The 42th, 43th and 43th Grenadier regiment and artillery units were the ones to do so. They covered the German 126th Infantry and Artillery regiment on his route from Nītaure to Sigulda defense line. With Soviets coming close by and making contact the Latvian units together with Germans moved to More on September 26. Latvians had shortage of ammunition that proved t0 be very crucial as the battle developed.

When Latvians arrived at the More they begun to establish defensive positions. Trench lines were already made with the help of the local populace. Machine gun nests were established, 12 MG 42 machine gun was used. Two German 75 m anti tank guns were placed. Also anti tank rockets were used to stop the tanks. Wired telephone communications were established with every platoon commander’s pit. Field radio was used a back up. The communications were crucial to lead the mortar fire and control the battle. Command group set up Command post in the More school-house. Medical Company arrived during the battle. The Latvians were faced by the Soviet 23th Rifle Division, 415th Rifle division, and Penal Companies. Each of the divisions more than 4 regiments and companies.

On 17:oo Soviet advance with tank T-34 support was spotted. T-34 approached 70 m to Latvia positions and 10 m from anti – tank mines. Men armed with panzerfaust anti tank missiles waited to tank to come in within range. Then a tall man with panzerfaust approached the tank looking for the best fire range. Tank moved its turret looking for target and killed the soldier with a main gun. He was the first causality of the Battle of More. The first attacking Soviet infantry detachments were repulsed and tank without getting fired by the anti tank guns reversed back. The tank could not find any targets and the anti tank did not want to reveal their positions prematurely. It was the only the reconnaissance attack to point out the positions. The real attack would begin next day.

The Battle of More. Soviet attacks and Latvian, Soviet unit positions

The Battle of More. Soviet attacks and Latvian, Soviet unit positions

After short preparatory fire soviets broke in to defensive point “Mazratnieki” and the 1st platoon sector, but were driven off by the counter attack. Two more attacks came, and without artillery support in the had to hand fighting were driven off. First Aid post was overflowed after first day fighting, the 3th company men were the most to receive wounds. In a night battle the 3th company destroyed a whole enemy battalion. Soviet commander, staff captain, lieutenant and political commissar perished in the battle.  Trenches were full of dead Soviet soldiers. 15 men taken as POW”S. On September 28 Soviets broke in again. During the battle men managed to gain important map from shot dead Soviet senior officer that contained important information about the soviet attacks that was vital for assisting the German withdrawal from Vidzeme and Riga.

Soviets fired endlessly with mortars towards Latvian positions sometimes not even hitting trenches, but area behind them. Direct frontal attacks were driven off with great causalities. Fields were covered with bodies of fallen Soviet soldiers. Tanks were stopped although the anti-tank units armed with panzerschreck’s were ill-equipped.

During the third day the defense points Mazratnieki and Mazkacēni changed hands many times. Soviet T-34 tanks came in support, 4 of them were destroyed with anti tank rockets. The tank who made the first Latvian causality on first day was finally destroyed with a direct hit of the artillery round. The score was settled. Without time to rest and eat the men had to fight off attacks day and night. Even night attacks proved fruitless, trenches were full of bodies. Soviets finally broke trough in the night of September 27/28. However, they did not get far and remained in the minefield and those who survived dug in. In great difficulty they were driven away from their positions.

Fourth day at the noon of 28 September Mazratnieki was again penetrated by the Soviets. And again pushed back. Repeated attacks accompanied by the artillery fire continued. Latvian artillery fought back. Air attacks against Latvians were also used without any friendly air support.

The fifth day battles evolved most fiercely around Kartūži estate. 42th regiment defended it. Soviets wanted to change attack route and come across the swamp to Kartūži. They managed to break in the positions and endanger the flanks but in another fierce battle were driven off. Soviets brought more supplies. But, the defense line despite great causalities was still mostly intact.

On September 30 the Latvians were ready to withdraw that commenced on October 5. Enemy attacks became more weaker.  A weaponless wandering soviet soldier was captured without food or shelter. Artillery attacks became more weaker and were more down to harassment.  Latvians gave their life’s in desperate fights, to keep the 18th German army withdrawal behind open. So Germans could march back to Riga. By October 2 most 18th German army units passed the Latvian 19th divison. The German 16th army of which 19th division belonged started to shorten their defensive line. On October 2 19th division was ordered to extend its line to far north lake Ummuri. Until October 5 Soviets battles became passive. On October 6 the 19th division left the More. On October 7 19th division was within the lake of Jugla in the Riga outskirts. As Soviets marched to Riga, Germans issued Riga an open city and so the 19th division moved to Courland. On October 13 Riga was entered by the Soviet forces. In Moscow fireworks were fired to mark the liberation of the “soviet” city Riga. But, the 19th division man had done their job. Allied German forces could withdraw from Vidzeme and Riga. And most important heavy battle for Riga was avoided as glory hungry soviet generals wanted to encircle Germans in Riga and make another Stalingrad. Riga would face the same destruction as Jelgava that was wiped out during fights in summer. All this with a heavy prize- 186 men were lost, 650 wounded. Soviets lost 2736  men, 9,576 were wounded. 1 transport plane and 1 IL-2 dive bomber was lost. Also those missing in action are not counted in.

Such enormous Soviet losses comparing to Latvian losses can be explained by the poor soviet attacking tactics. Soviets had clear majority and full equipment. Tanks and air support. However, their horde style attacks often directly to enemy lines and machine gun nests ended in complete disarray.  After reaching the enemy lines the hordes became disorganized and it was every soldier for himself. Latvians and their German colleges used extensive defensive tactics and ensured on the individual action and discipline. Latvian soldiers also showed great endurance and were ready to defend at all costs while soviets were quick to rout. Coincidentally Latvian soldiers fighting on Russian, Soviet and German side in both World wars have always surprisingly fared better  than their native colleges in arms. Russians always boast about the high number of casualties on their side to counter any criticism about their war history. However, they should note that large numbers of these casualties were lost due the poor commanding and tactics. With a great manpower, supplies the soviet command felt no remorse of sacrificing so many soldiers life’s. And same as Latvians, Germans they were not just numbers on the causality report.  They were sons, husbands,fathers, all lost for the cause of a brutal totalitarian regime fighting in a rogue land.

Latvian soldiers at the More monument on 1993

Latvian soldiers at the More monument on 1993

Today there is Memorial Museum at More. Commemorations takes place there today. Despite fighting on the Nazi German lines these men defended their homeland. Nazi Germany is the evil of the World War 2, but the Soviet Union is the second evil of the World War 2. For its actions on 1939-1941 were the main reason why the Latvian soldiers in German uniforms had to fight with the Soviet soldiers. Today as the new danger looms, the Latvians should set the Battle of More as example for defending homeland against the aggressor.  Hopefully, we will not see the second Battle of More, but this time we will defend our country in the uniform of the Latvian Armed Forces.

Selected Sources:

Kovtuņenko, Rolands (2009) Battle at More. Riga. Apvienība Timmermanis un Vējiņš.

Pētersons, Aivars. (2007) Krustugunīs. 60 gadus no tautas slēptais. 1940-1945. Rīga.

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Latvian-Polish Border Dispute 1919-1939

The percentage of the Polish population in eastern Latvia. The largest percent is seen at six parishes of the Ilūktse district claimed by Poland

The percentage of the Polish population in eastern Latvia. The largest percent is seen at six parishes of the Ilūktse district claimed by Poland

When Latvia proclaimed independence on November 18 1918 the borders of the new country were not clearly determined. The general idea was that Latvia should be based on three main regions – Courland (Kurzeme) and Semigallia (Zemgale), Vidzeme and Latgale. However, when it came to actual border setting between various neighboring countries. Latvia has border related issues with Lithuania and Estonia where Latvia lost the dispute. However, the question of the Ilūkste district and the town of Grīva – claimed by Poland and Lithuania – gained and controlled by Latvia remained unsolved for many years. The Polish- Latvian border dispute caused ethnic friction between Latvians and Poles within the disputed territory. In the end on 1931 it resulted tense diplomatic conflict between Poland and Latvia. How this dispute evolved and how it was solved will be discussed in this article.

The Ilūkste district was located in southern part of Latvia, on the left side of the river Daugava. The two main centers were Ilūkste and Grīva. Grīva was located on the left bank of river Daugava right across Daugavpils. Today both cities are joined together, however then Grīva and Daugavpils were administratively  separated by the river.  Also this district was part of the Courland Province of the Russian Empire, while Daugavpils or Dunaburg was within the Province of Vitebsk. As being located between crossroads of Lithuania, Belarus and Latvia the district was ethically diverse containing Latvian, Lithuanian,Polish, Belarusian and Jewish communities. So both Poland and Lithuania considered that they should have this piece of land.

Polish armies entered the district on August-September 1919. On September 27 the Red Army was forced to abandon the left side of Daugava and retreated to Daugavpils fortress. The Polish government decided that the district must be annexed by Poland. It was mainly do to the strategical reasons as Poland wanted the border to run along the river Daugava. Also the significant Polish population was the argument to include this district within Poland. The district was formed in six parishes Borne, Demene,Kalkūni, Skrundaliena and Borovka. They were added to Polish Braslava district.

Ilūkste and Grīva. Areas of the Polish -Latvian border dispute

Ilūkste and Grīva. Areas of the Polish -Latvian border dispute

However, Latvian government regarded this district also with sizable Latvian population as their legitimate land. On December 1919 both Polish and Latvian armies liberated Latgale from the Red Army. The Polish Military command issued to local Polish administration in Ilūkste to prevent any attempt of establishing of the Latvian authority. On February 22 before Warsaw conference the Polish Foreign Ministry decided to issue demand to Latvia to give up its claims on Ilūkste district. On the spot both sides started to bring in their own governing bodies which resulted in conflict. Latvians attempted to issue new Chief of the Police in Grīva while it was de facto controlled by the Poles. He was turned away, same happened with Latvian border guards who were instructed to establish border posts along the Latvian claimed border line. Poles turned them away and they were forced to establish the posts along the river Daugava. Petitions were gathered along the left bank against giving the disputed land to Latvia. If not the person was threatened to be deported to Latvia and was punished with high fees.

On February 26 the chief of Latgale region A Bērziņš reported to Foreign Affairs ministry that this district can only be gained back by guns. As on March 1 1920 Latvian FA gathered delegation to Warsaw, the notion was to convince Poland of restoring the borders of the former Courland province. Meanwhile Polish FA had already decided that Poland will keep the district. In Warsaw the Polish side argued that border line along the Daugava will be effective in case of military assistance to Latvia. Polish foreign minister F Patek even admitted that this territory is rightfully Latvian but still insisted on turning it over to Poland. Latvian side refused to accept this and the question remained open.  Latvians saw the danger of Polish having border along Daugava that would make them easily to influence or even capture Latgale. So the talks ended with no result. It was no secret that Polish nationalists wanted to restore Poland within its 1772 borders that means also Latgale or even whole Courland was under Polish deepest desires.

Latvia was in risk of loosing this territory for ever. Still in June Latvian side even manged to stage a propaganda trip along the district under the guise of Lutheran clergy visit to Latvian churches. The pastor asked people to pray God for “free, independent Latvia, all the regions of our homeland including those not yet liberated and our Constituent Assembly”. According to 192o census the 1500 km² wide area was populated by 18 571 people. 1702 Latvians, 6116 Poles, 758 Lithuanians, 3015 Belarusians, 6612 Russians, 323 Jews and 45 Germans. The Polish made census on 1919 gathered 9207 Poles, 1273 Belarusians, 251 Lithuanians, 5068 Russians, 1396 Latvians and 134 Jews. In so the both data greatly conflicted in numbers of the size of the Latvian and Polish communities. However, they both showed that the Latvia  community is rather small comparing to Polish, Russian and Belarusian communities.  For a long time this land was dominated by the Polish language and Christian church. Many people were unable to determine their true ethnicity and fluctuated between being Polish or Latvian. Also Belarusians had trouble as they were unsure of being Polish, Russian or even Latvian. Therefore there was large room for error or even fraud in these  statistics.

On summer 1920 the situation unexpectedly turned the other way around. Polish offensive in Ukraine was crushed and swift Soviet counter attack begun. The Polish forces in Ilūkste were in danger of being torn off from the main forces. Poland was unsure of the Latvian actions kept one division to protect the north side. Latvia was unable to take direct part as it has signed ceasefire with Soviet Russia and talks for peace agreement was under way.

However, as Polish forces were pushed inwards, the Latvian army started to cross the river and enter the Ilūkste district. At same time the Lithuanians appeared to gain their share of the district. A small gunfights without causalities erupted and Lithuanians had to turn back. With the help of the English military mission representatives the dispute between Latvians and Lithuanians were calmed and Lithuanians backed off. As there was no Soviet forces around and no Poles, Latvian forces took over the territory. Local populace afraid from the Soviets and disorder welcomed Latvian forces.

Latvians had a hard time restoring order in the devastated district  and installing loyal officials as nearly all past officials were Poles. Poland was caught in the war for survival and missed the event. On Autumn 1920 after the Polish victory over the Soviets at the Battle of Warsaw, Polish armies headed back towards the Ilūkste district. Polish forces captured Vilnius and reached the Latvian held territory on November. However, Poland was not willing for the conflict with Latvians and decided to leave by the demarcation line until issue is solved diplomatically.

While some local Poles protested the Latvian power, others like Belarusians decided they are better off with Latvia then with Poland. Despite Polish efforts on March 20 1921 The International Commission lead by D Simpson decided that Ilūkste district belongs to Latvia. However, the commission was intended to solve Latvian-Lithuanian border issues and because of Vilnius conflict it disregarded the Polish claims. Therefore Poland still kept its claims.

In next following years the question remained unsolved. Poland despite formal claims and protest notes did not make strong actions to gain Ilūkste back. Meanwhile the situation in the region stabilized. Latvians schools were opened, the Latvian education in Ilūkste was great concern for Riga. Poles had rights for state funded minority schools. Also the Belarusians gathered to open their own schools.

The issue was raised again sometimes. On 1923 the Polish Sejm (parliament) received 28 people signed memorandum from “the Latvian occupied parishes”. Some of the petitioners had Russian and even one Latvian surenames indicating poloniziation. On 1922 the Latvian Polish Political party declared that it cannot issue their candidates in Ilūkste district because of “sworn allegiance” to Poland on 1919. In the result only one candidate from Latgale was elected into Latvian Saeima. Later they canceled this fruitless principality and issued candidates in Zemgale election district to gain better results.

Latvians placed a great pressure on  Ilūkste resulting national frictions. The leading anti-Polish discourse stated that after the centuries of polonization that has made one large quarter of the Ilūkste Latvians into Poles, the Polish politicians and the Catholic church still try to polonize people of Latgale. The Polish schools were accused of spreading “traitorous spirit”, Catholic Church was accused of boosting separatism. The suspicion affected Belarusians too as  they were accused of separatism and their teachers placed on trial. Incidentally the cause of this trial was map showing Belarusian ethnic borders in one of the schools within Ilūkste district. The Latvian secret police thought that the map was actually map of the future Belarusian state that included Ilūkste district. In the end the Belarusian trial ended in fiasco forcing secret police to free the teachers. Meanwhile Poles in their newspapers accused Latvians of chauvinism and attempts of undermining the Polish language and culture.  Poles also accused Belarusians of attempts of taking away Polish kids and turning them into Belarusians. As matter of fact both Latvians and Poles even questioned if there such nation as “Belarusians”. Another important factor was the resurgence of the Latgalian nationalism. Latvians of Latgale have distinct dialect that some of them considers a distinctive language. As Latgalian nationalists campaigned for Latgalian autonomy and official Latgalian autonomy status, they issued strong messages of confrontation towards Poles of whom the viewed as the representatives of the “dark Polish times”. Polish activists argued back that they rule in 16-18th century was good and more better then the Russian Tzarist rule.

As Poland after 1926 became autocratic dictatorship by  Juzef Pilsudsky the Latvian Poles became more reliant on the Polish Mother State. Poland sponsored Polish minority movements. All the historic dates like the uprising of 183o and 1836 were celebrated making Latvians cringe as these events were made to restore united Polish commonwealth. Latvian Polish Union gained 2 deputy seats in the parliament and even more in local elections. The influence of the Polish state and regime was clearly visible in the Latvian Polish daily paper “Dzwon” (The Bell) where an ode to the president of Poland Juzef Pilsudsky was published. It was written by local from Krāslava a town with significant Polish minority. From today’s perspective that is a clear sign of the Polish “soft power”.

An Ode to President of Poland Juzef Pilsudsky written by local Pole from Krāslava Zofija Rujkowna

An Ode to President of Poland Juzef Pilsudsky written by local Pole from Krāslava Zofija Rujkowna

After many years of passive tension the Ilūkste dispute reached the boiling point. On 1931 the Ilūkste Catholic church tried to increase the number of church masses in Latgalian language. The local Poles were not impressed. On April 26 and May 3 during Latgalian church mass the Poles started to sing their Polish prayers loader than Latgalians. As both sides tried to sing loader then another the mass turned into riot. Many were arrested in result. A scandalous trials followed mostly issuing small term punishments for shouting the church and disrupting the civil order.

In Riga the Saeima parliamentary investigative commission was made and it concluded that the polonization has taken place in Ilūkste district and the Latvian Polish Union is responsible. The commission accused the Union of spreading separatist teachings in Polish schools and spreading school text books from Poland that marked Ilūkste as Polish territory.  1931 was also the election year boosting up the campaign against the rival Polish party. Polish Union split up in the pro-Latvian and pro-Polish block. Despite that two Polish representatives were elected, the Polish Union was temporally shot down and their six owned Polish schools were closed. The main Polish newspaper “Dzwon” was closed. Later do the “formal reasons” the Latvian Polish Union was disbanded. The Polish ambassador from Riga was temporary called off.

After being closed by the Latvian authorities the Polish newspaper issues a one issue call to all Polish voters to defend the Polish national rights and religions against the Latvian chauvinism and vote for the Polish Union that was later also closed down

After being closed by the Latvian authorities the Polish newspaper issues a one issue call to all Polish voters to defend the Polish national rights and religions against the Latvian chauvinism and vote for the Polish Union that was later also closed down

Despite condemnations from Warsaw and rumbling Polish press, Poland did not made any serious steps against Latvia. After all Latvia was one of the main Latvian trade partners and in secret deal between the two states on 1929 Poland by agreeing to pay compensations to  compensations to Polish citizen former land owners (including Ilūkste district) had de facto agreed on Ilūkste Latvian possession.

As Latvian population in the district increased (sometimes it was done artificially, by registering Pole or Belarusian as Latvian), and more Latvians taking over local administrations the tensions cooled down. The Poles made new party and restored their newspapers. However, on 1934 when Kārlis Ulmanis seized power, the new party was again banned. On 1933 both sides started negotiations on the border issue. The commission from the both countries finally reached agreement on 1938 ending the issue once and for all. Interesting event between 1933 and 1938 was the closure of the newspaper “Pēdējā Brīdī”. The newspaper had published article about celebrations of 1836 uprising that did not take place for some reason. Article included reference to the Polish claims of 1772 borders, that angered the Polish ambassador. The Latvian Foreign Ministry received complaints from him and asked to punish the newspaper. Newspaper was  fined for “spreading hate across the society”, soon after that the censors encountered another “bad” article about Baltic Germans and the Latvian Police and was closed down for “the bad conduct”.

That was last of the tensions. Eventually Ilūkste became recognized as a Latvian city. On 1939 after Eastern Poland was occupied and annexed  by the Soviet Union the border with Poland was lost forever. Now the Ilūkste district shares border with Lithuania and Belarus. Still ethnically diverse the Ilūkste district has become an integral part of Latvia.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (1995). Sešu Pagastu un Grīvas pilsētas problēma Latvijas Polijas attiecībās. Latvijas Vēstures Instituta Žurnāls. Nr.1

Jēkabsons Ēriks. (1996) Poļi Latvijā. Rīga.

Newspaper “Dzwon” 1931

The Latvian History Archive. Ministry of the Society Affairs. Press and organization fund 3724.f. The “Pēdējā Brīdī” case Nr. 549.

Various Latvian Newspapers 1920-1936

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The Nature of Communism

communism

75 years have passed since the signing of the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact. The pact that triggered the World War II and caused the occupation of Poland and the Baltic States. For decades historians only described this event from the Nazi Germany point of view, overlooking the role of Soviet Union and its leader Joseph Stalin. Now more and more historians acknowledge that Soviet Union just as Nazi Germany was responsible for causing the World War II. And Soviet Union had its own reasons for starting the world war and that was its ideology – communism. An ideology that wanted achieve social and national equality by using war and violence was the driving force for dragging world into war. 75 years later we are witnessing the resurgence of this ideology. Russia is trying to restore former soviet “glory” in grotesque ways by including the elements of Nazism and Russian Czarist imperialism. This new hybrid ideology is potentially even more dangerous than teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. But, the root of this conflict is the communist ideology proposed by these two men. Even 21st century people still believe in these teachings and want to restore former soviet order. These beliefs are based on ignorance and deception. Today, August 23, is the European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of both Communism and Nazism. This article will reveal the deceitful nature of communism and explain why this is a  utopian ideology and philosophy can never be realized and always will turn to dystopia.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels formulated their ideas in their “Communist Party Manifesto”. They made thesis about that social conscience is dependent on the social being, named the laws of the social development and claimed that the means of production defines structure of the society. Social development is dictated by the forces of production. They formulated the idea of the proletarian dictatorship and the leading role of the communist party in struggle for full power. Manifesto clearly stated that the communist goals can be achieved only by force, overthrowing the present political power, taking away all capital from bourgeoisie and centralizing the recourses of production. Thus this manifesto was written by people who could be hardly classified as proletarians and enjoyed bourgeoisie lifestyles.

These ideas were the clear promotion of totalitarianism. The monopoly of one ideology, one party and one class dictatorship and centralized economy. The monopoly of the public sector. Later day totalitarian ideologies as fascism and Nazism that were opposed to communism in fact used similar ways- one party, one national group dictatorship and controlled private sector. For the totalitarian regimes have the same mechanism only the ways of operation differs. The communist ideology had controversial nature- while preaching humanitarian ideals it boasted the use of violence and oppression. That shows that these ideals were nothing more than ideological weapon for the communists to gain and secure power for their desired worldwide socialist revolution. In 19th century Europe communism was ideology made by middle class people who felt shorthanded by the ruling elite and wanted to overthrow it using masses of workers and poor peasants.

The first communist regime came into being in Russia not in Germany or  United Kingdom. Russian Empire was one of the last absolutist monarchies, unable to modernize and reform the Western way. Without fully established middle class as in Europe, Russia was full of people waiting for rapid change to end their injustice. The communists used the Russian defeat in the World War I, gained control over army and large masses of society and gained the power.

Basing on the theoretical generalizations by the Marx and Engels that bourgeoisie exploits the workers caused by the existence of the private property and its owners that causes contradiction between the forces of production and production relations – this most active part of the society was called as the enemies of the people and meant for destruction. Proletariat should now take the leading the role of the society. Their enemies were considered urban and rural businessmen, wealthy farmers, the intellectuals, state employees and the army leadership. In the event of revolution one social group destroys other by using murder and repression that is how the communists wanted to achieve things. And this social warfare continues after full victory of the revolution.

For seventy years this grandiose social experiment was carried out in Soviet Union causing the death of millions. And in the end it proved that communist regime is nothing but utopia, in fact it was dystopia. Communists believed that work productivity must be achieved by communistic job attitude, public property, planed state economy, socialistic competition, scientific work and moral stimulus. However, the soviet praxis proved to be flawed and with small efficiency. In EU and US the main food product production on one hectare was at least 2-4 times higher, and on one person employed in agriculture 8-10 higher than in Soviet Union. That’s clearly visible by comparing the full store shelves in capitalist countries comparing to nearly empty stores in the Soviet Union.

Communists underestimated the importance of individualism and the personal interests. Lenin declared that after the liberation from the exploiters worker can finally work for himself. It is a big difference if one work for himself or for others. However, the communism made this phrase an abstraction as people worked for the society for the proletarian cause. Meanwhile capitalist truly works for himself. However, the employed people in the private sector is limited by his recourses and recourses of the employer. In communism the state employed person is limited by the recourses of the state. So in communism the person is exploited by the state and the ruling elite. If the person has no personal interest in his work and no possibility to gain personal salary the work productivity drops. If people must work only for the state and society with limited salary and controlled life possibilities the interest in work is strained. And therefore the state economy is obstructed and failed.

In Soviet Union the human factor was the main problem of the productivity. As people were not interested in their work the resources were used irrationally, looted and lost. Corruption was eminent part of everyday soviet lives. During the Stalin’s rule this was fought with repressions and executions and constant threats. His successors tried to fight this by civil means. However, neither stimulated socialistic competition, salary according to accomplishments, material stimulation and state awards, could not ensure the needed productivity and amount of consumption. Instead state was forced to regularly write of the debts by the agricultural collective farms. Collective farming – in fact a modern form of serfdom was disastrous and ineffective. On 1959 Soviet minister of agriculture Nikonov reported that 259 weak Latvian collective farms of kolkhozes were unified with the soviet farms or sovhozes. While 59 soviet farms made 52 million ruble worth losses to the state. On 1963 the head of the Latvian Communist party Pelše admitted of having 203 weak kolkhozes and 343 sovhozes. The kolkhoz economy was disastrous for Latvian agricultural society as it was based on Russian village economy, while in Latvia the farmstead economy was the leading one. By deporting the private farm owners and forcing people to live in villages, communists destroyed a centuries of the Latvian cultural tradition.

Despite owning large territories of fertile agricultural land in Ukraine, Baltic States, Belarus, Moldova, and Russia, Soviet Union suffered from chronic food product deficit. Grain was regularly imported from the capitalist countries, while grain taken away from soviet farmers were exported in return. Same goes for industrial sector, despite owning large amounts of gas, oil and iron the same deficit was present. The soviet command economy was no different from feudal czarist economy. The economical plans were issued as laws and directives. The subordinates fulfilled it as orders with no regard to their personal interests. They were just executors in the large soviet machinery who do as their superiors told to. As they were liberated from working for others, they also were liberated from thinking. “Do as I am told” attitude not only lead to completely useless actions like trying to grow cornflakes in Latvia to disasters like Chernobyl and the Aral Sea.

While private property was declared as the main evil of the society it proved that the absence of the private property was the evil of the soviet society. Besides it was never really removed as it existed in various limited forms. During the first years after the Russian Civil War, Lenins New Economic Policy allowed limited state regulated private sector. Stalin to gather absolute power imposed concentration camp economy with almost total absence of private sector. However, his economy was ensured by the repressions. During the rule of Khrushchev and Brezhnev soviets again were forced to allow limited private enterprise. For instance collective farm workers could own small plot of land to grow their own food and even sell it in rural markets. That allowed people to survive, while EU was experiencing severe agricultural overproduction and had to limit it by imposing quotas.  The society is driven by social competition and contradictions in production. The private economy has been proven as best way to manage this. Democracy and non-violence is another effective way to handle such way of things. However, democracy was another thing that communists wanted to eradicate.

Communists believed that contradictions in society are antagonic and not correlative. Therefore violence and dictatorship was the only way of ruling the society according to them. Social classes and political groups seen as hostile to the revolution were to be destroyed. By attempting to destroy the employers the communists attempted to eradicate the very foundation of the social structure. The violent flawed belief that society can prosper without certain social groups lead to great human disasters. On 1919 Latvian Soviet government in short time killed hundreds of thousands people because of their social class and nationality. On 1932 -1933 to impose collectivization in Ukraine, Stalin stimulated famine to get rid of farmers unwilling to join kolkhozes. In result 2-7 million people died in horrible famine across Ukraine. This genocide known as Holodomor had also ethnic character because it killed native Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine. After that Ukrainian Soviet Republic was filled with immigrants from Russia, while Western Ukraine ruled by Poland preserved its Ukrainian population. The Holodomor is the true reason for the “ethnic divide” of Ukraine. During the 1937-1938 great purge Stalin to monopolize his power made certain social and ethnic groups as enemies and destroyed them. Latvian communists and socially active Latvian soviet citizens were accused of state betrayal and destroyed in thousands. Same happened to Poles, Germans. Later even Jews were accused of state betrayal and were considered for deportations.

hammer_and_sickle

In international scene the same antagonism was used. Soviet Union was considered as single state fortress against the fascist-capitalist world. However, the political and trade cooperation was allowed. As Lenin said: “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”. The cooperation was useful as it was according to soviet imperial interests. Ultimately the capitalist world had to be destroyed resulting worldwide socialist revolution. As Stalin lost his faith in European proletariat unwilling to support the communist revolution, he gave is chance in war. Another teaching by Lenin was that next global war between imperialists will cause socialist revolution.  Stalin’s foreign policy towards Germany actually helped Hitler to gain power. While being officially anti-fascist Stalin did not nothing to obstruct Hitlers gambles in Austria and Czechoslovakia.  When the September 1939 came, Stalin had unique chance to ally with UK and France against Germany to avert the invasion in Poland. Instead Stalin did what the communist ideology required him to do – by signing treaty with Germany initiate the war in Europe. Naturally this alliance with Nazis was only temporarily as Stalin was looking to hang Hitler with his own rope. The Nazi invasion in 1941 was failure for Stalin’s quest for worldwide revolution and despite capturing Berlin and gaining control over Eastern Europe Stalin did not considered himself truly victorious.

In the end the communism proved to be bloody fiction and deception. Soviet Union was not a proletarian dictatorship it was single party dictatorship lead by one man enjoying monarch lifestyle. The new ruling elite or nomenklatura enjoyed bourgeoisie lifestyles while rest of the people were standing in the lines of the empty shops. The so called Soviet Republics had only limited self governing rights as they were dependent on orders from Moscow.  The country boasted about their military might while in reality being technically inferior to its rivals and vulnerable. Despite relative quality of the standard of living, the state limited the trips to capitalist countries to prevent the people see the real life in the West.

This is not only the case of the Soviet Union. Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe, Kuba, Africa and Asia failed the same way. Chinese communists acknowledged the importance of the private property and diverted from the Marxist teachings and kept their power. Laos and Vietnam did the same. Meanwhile Cuba and North Korea still suffers from poverty and isolation because of tyrannical communist rule. To see difference between communism and capitalism you need to see the satellite view of Korean peninsula at night. You will see the South Korea full of light while Northern Korea as one big black hole. And yes the North Korean elite including their leader enjoys the capitalist Samsung smartphones and other gadgets.

Now Russia is heading for this same trap. Not only is that she is looking to draw her neighbors along. Communism is still seen favorable by old generation people and young people affected by propaganda. They may like to wave red flags while enjoying the fruits of capitalism the internet and shops full of their favorite western goods. They communism goes no further as slogan “our country is great and victorious and world fears us”. If they would be thrown back into Stalinist or even Brezhnev realities they would look for way to escape. The Putin and his henchmen are of course are no communists. They enjoy the private profit and luxury; they enjoy vacations in US and Europe and have their investments and bank funds there. Their main concern is keeping the power over their people and people in the neighboring countries. For that they can use neo-communist, nationalist or even Nazi influenced propaganda. They profit on masses of foolish people who thinks Putin will restore the communist Soviet Union. He may actually restore one thing- international isolation and deficit of food products. He can limit the freedom of expression. But, can such neo-soviet state exist for long? Under the reign of Putin Russia will only be a fascist state under the hammer and sickle. As communism is alien to human nature and is anti-human in its character. That is the danger of the nature of communism.

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