Problem Two: Peasant Resistance and Mutineers
form is of analytical interest in itself, I focus on the contrasting reaction to armed peasant resistance.
The Clubmen Associations organized to defend lives and property against soldiers from both sides in the conflict (Wedgwood, 1959, p. 429; Morrill, 1999, p. 133). Cromwell dismissed those involved in these groups as “poor silly creatures” (Fraser, 1973, p. 168) and asked permission of Thomas Fairfax to release those he had taken prisoner. They were “to have the liberty to defend themselves against plundering” (Abbott, 1937, I, p. 369). While the English Clubmen presented a parallel opportunity to the Greens for massacre, they were tolerated within limits.
The Greens, labeled for their forest locales, fought both the White and Red armies. Food shortages and starvation in the cities meant forced requisition of agricultural produce and the mobilization demands of the Red Army made peasants the target of conscription (Figes, 1990, p. 179). The Bolshevik response to Green uprisings was execution and deportation (see Brovkin, 1994, p. 562). Lenin had some use for the Greens. In an August 1920 note to a colleague he wrote: “A beautiful plan. Finish it off together with Dzerzhynski. Disguised as ‘Greens’ (and we’ll pin this on them subsequently), we’ll advance for 10-20 versts and hang the kulaks, priests, and landowners. the prize: 100,000 rubles for every man hanged” (quoted in Service, 1995, p. 42).
A more severe test of a leader’s restraint was resistance from within the armed forces. Both civil wars saw mutinies motivated by revolutionary, not counterrevolutionary sentiments. In 1921, the Red Army under Mikhail Tukhachevskii fought the 15,000 defenders of the naval fortress on Kronstadt off St. Petersburg (Petrograd) to their death (Leggett, 1981, p. 327). The sailors wanted democratic freedom for the non-Communist left, free speech for workers, peasants, anarchists, and left socialist parties, freedom of assembly for trade unions and peasant associations, the release of socialist political prisoners, an end to the Cheka and the death penalty, and equal rations. Lenin’s position was that “we must counter it with rifles, no matter how innocent it may appear” (Lenin, 1965b). Lenin lied about the sailors’ political views and denounced them as Whites and counterrevolutionary:
the Socialist Revolutionaries and the bourgeois counterrevolutionaries in general resorted in Kronstadt to slogans calling for an insurrection against the Soviet Government of Russia ostensibly in the interest of the Soviet power. These facts fully prove that the White Guards strive, and are able, to disguise themselves as
Communists, and even as the most left-wing Communists, solely
for the purpose of weakening and destroying the bulwark of the
proletarian revolution in Russia. (Lenin, 1965c)
It is plausible to argue that by 1921, with the formation of the Red Army and the defeat of the White Armies, there was an opportunity for more restraint. These were former comrades and they were committed to revolution.
Once the fortress was taken by the Red Army, the surviving defenders were shot or executed at a later date (Leggett, 1981, p. 327; Shub, 1951, p. 361; Getzler, 1983, p. 244). This lack of restraint did not reflect reciprocity and was not proportionate to the practices of the mutineers: “the worst that befell the imprisoned Communists was the confiscation, on 10th and 12th March, of their boots, sheepskins and great coats for use of the soldiers manning the outer defenses” (Getzler, 1983, p. 241). Lenin’s use of repression was generally disproportionate to the threat. Whoever posed the threat, former comrades or not, was dealt with similarly. In contrast, Machiavelli thought that at some point there could be too much cruelty. Fear was useful to a Prince but not “hatred.” It could prompt “backlash” violence and increased resistance.
In comparison with the response to Kronstadt, Cromwell managed the threat from mutinous “Leveller” soldiers with minimal force. The Levellers were a democratic political movement that attracted support within the parliamentary New Model Army. They were for manhood suffrage, a republic, freedom of religion, and economic reform. They proposed free schools and welfare policies, and made common cause with the ordinary people of Ireland. The first response of Parliamentary commanders Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax was to engage in debate with the Levellers in October through November of 1647. The unrest in the army came to a head in the spring of 1649 in the context of mobilization for the war in Ireland. In March the Leveller leader, John Lilburne, was arrested. He was later tried and acquitted (Royle, 2005, p. 510). By May soldiers in some regiments were refusing to fight in Ireland and “many of them made public statements that they would take no part in any military action against a people, the Irish, whose liberties were under threat” (p. 511). Cromwell and his loyal regiments captured about 400 mutineers and held them in Burford Church, Oxfordshire. Three mutineers were shot in the churchyard. The rest were subjected to a speech by Cromwell and released (pp. 513-14). Money was found to make up for arrears in military pay, which was one of the causes of the unrest.