Beevor unravels the keys to terror in the Bolshevik revolution

British historian and former military officer Antony Beevor. / John Carey

The historian maintains that between six and ten million human beings died violently in Russia between 1917 and 1921 / "Europe had not seen such conspicuous cruelty, used as a weapon of terror, since the wars of religion," says the former military

Michael Lorenci

Between six and ten million people died violently in the Russian revolution and its civil war, between 1917 and 1921. This is the calculation of Sir Antony Beevor (London, 74 years old), author of 'Russia: Revolution and civil war, 1917 -1921' (Critique) and one of the most prestigious military historians. To this horrifying figure should be added the victims of the famines and epidemics that punished the gigantic country, according to Beevor, who unravels in his essay the keys to Leninist and Bolshevik terror, but also the crimes of counterrevolutionaries and tsarists.

Beevor, who was prevented by covid from presenting his book in Spain yesterday, assures that Lenin established an implacable regime “of genocidal determination”. His executing arm was the Cheka, the political police "authorized to torture and murder without trial" enemies, adversaries, or mere suspects. "It was quicker and easier for the Chekists to put every prisoner to death than to investigate every open case," Beevor writes of the police calling themselves "the sword and flame of the Revolution" and practicing "methods of medieval torture.

In addition to studying with his usual rigor the crimes of the Bolshevik political police, Beevor analyzes with testimonies and direct sources the criminal violence deployed on battlefields and in the rearguards of the civil war. "Europe has not seen such conspicuous cruelty, used as a weapon of terror, since the wars of religion," he says. "Terror begat terror, which in turn led to even greater cruelty on men, women and children," says Beevor, who handles the most up-to-date studies and delves into a sea of ​​files to offer a complete picture with all the versions. , from that of the worker in the streets of Petrograd, to that of the cavalry officer on the battlefield or that of a doctor in a field hospital.

"Where did the extremes of sadism come from: hacking to pieces with a saber, cutting with knives, burning and boiling, scalping live, nailing uniform epaulettes to shoulders, gouging out eyes, drenching victims in winter so that they can freeze to death, castrate, eviscerate, amputate…? Had the rhetoric of political hatred intensified to an unprecedented extreme the fury of revenge? ”, asks the historian, who dedicates almost 700 pages to giving answers.

Far from stopping, the violence was exacerbated by the Bolshevik victory that ended the tsarist empire. "His most horrible manifestation followed the hour of absolute victory," says Beevor. "In a foretaste of the practices that the SS 'Einsatzgruppen' would perpetrate during the invasion of the Soviet Union twenty years later, some victims were forced not only to dig mass graves, but also to strip naked and get into the execution pit. The next batch they forced her to stretch over the dead to kill them right there. Some had not died when the pit was covered with earth », he details. “When the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union took place two decades later, it seems that Himmler's Gestapo and SS had learned little from the methods of the Cheka,” Beevor denounces.

nuclear threat

Like Putin now, Lenin and the Bolsheviks "were aware of the serious danger they ran if they lost control over the Ukraine and southern Russia." The red troops then needed two years to reconquer Kharkov and kyiv, again exerting terror on the population and preying on the Jews. "It is estimated that more than 1,300 anti-Semitic pogroms were perpetrated in Ukraine by both sides, resulting in the deaths of between 50,000 and 60,000 Jews," writes Beevor. He further estimates that in Crimea Bolshevik massacres "generated between 15,000 and 100,000 dead."

In a recent article on the war in Ukraine, Antony Beevor asserted that Putin "is trapped in a past he cannot understand", that he is prepared to use nuclear weapons "if his own regime is defeated in Ukraine" and that "there have been far greater dangers to the world than at any time since 1945."

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