I became frustrated when I started studying the history of Communism in 2006. I read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, The Black Book of Communism, many of Robert Conrad’s works, and much more. Absolute oppression and evil. The crushing of generations. As I kept reading I would ask, “Why didn’t anyone fight back?”
Granted, Russians didn’t have the benefit of historical parallels to their situation. The consensus was generally positive in 1917 when Lenin promised universal health care, infrastructure investments (electricity), pulling out of an unpopular war (WWI), and other hope and change assurances.
But there were Russians who did fight back, physically and economically. Called “bandits,” “wreckers,” or “internal enemies,” these were citizens who saw a tyrant’s actions through the fog of his words. They pushed back.
Finding stories of brave citizens who resisted, with little chance of success and significant chance of violent death, has sent my studies of Communism into overdrive. Let me share one of their stories: a story of vision, leadership, commitment to freedom, and of a citizenry armed against tyranny. Let me tell you about Aleksandr Antonov and his army of Greens.
Pre-1917 Revolution: Antonov (29) was a revolutionary and criminal by trade. He was granted amnesty and released from prison prior to the October Revolution and returned home to work as the local militia commander.
After the October Revolution: the Soviets recognized Antonov’s anti-tsarist past and kept Antonov on as their first Soviet militia commander in the area. Despite his role within the regime, Antonov foresaw the likely outcome of Lenin’s policies. By 1920 he was the leader of an insurgent army called the Greens.
Situation: 1918 – 1920
It took a full year for the Bolsheviks to spread their communist control through Russia. The Tambov region, roughly 200 miles southeast of Moscow, has some of the most fertile farmland in the country. Lenin moved the capital closer to Tambov– from the far-North city of Petrograd down to Moscow– in March 1918. His reach continued southward and two months later, Lenin’s policies hit Tambov hard.
Up to this point, the Peasant community had seen years of improving conditions under Tsar Nicholas II. A middle class was forming, with private property becoming a reality for some and an aspiration for others. Lenin promised, during his fragile early days of Bolshevik rule, that the Tsar’s policies would continue. Although Antonov was among a growing group who suspected a lie, this promise by Lenin was enough to maintain the peace.
But Antonov made preparations. He was tasked by a Trotsky order to confiscate the weapons from Czech Legionnaires who retreated through the Tambov province. He did as he was ordered, and with zeal. But instead of transferring the weapons to the Red Army, he distributed the weapons to the area peasants who, in turn, hid them.
Six months after taking power, as often happens with communists, Lenin’s promises turned to demands. In May 1918, his government introduced itself to the Tambov province with both a military conscription drive and food requisitions. Peasants were forced to surrender their two most precious assets: their labor, and the product of their labor.