September 1, 1918 – The Red Terror Begins

Pictured: The banner reads: “Death to the bourgeois and their helpers. Long live the Red Terror!“

In 1793, the armies of Old Europe marched on Paris to destroy the nascent French Republic. But the Republic also had many internal enemies, French who believed the Revolution had already gone too far. Faced with enemies both external and internal, the panicked revolutionaries embarked on a “Reign of Terror” to weed out any fifth column within the Republic. Royalists, aristocrats, and other suspected enemies were led to the guillotine in their hundreds.

The Bolshevik revolutionaries often modeled themselves on their French predecessors. In 1918 anti-Bolshevik armies were pressing east from Siberia towards Moscow, while counter-revolutionaries had surfaced in heart of Red Russia itself. At the end of August a Socialist Revolutionary named Fanny Kaplan shot but did not kill Lenin. The assassination attempt sparked an immediate response. The Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, recieved explicit orders to crack down on any and all opposed to the revolution. The first victims were members of the Socialist Revolutionary party. Over 800 were executed in the next weeks.

The Terror’s objectives were simple: kill internal enemies of the Revolution, and cow everyone else into submission. The Cheka proved enthusiastic torturers and executioners, devising horrible ways to kill people, such as feeding them into sawmills or letting them be eaten alive by rats. The Red Terror killed thousands and succeeded almost entirely. The anti-Bolshevik White armies unleashed their own reigns of White Terror, but whereas these were haphazard campaigns of pointless violence (often directed against Jews) the Reds used Terror like a scalpel, eliminating internal enemies and preventing new ones from arising.


August 30, 1918 – Lenin Survives Assassination Attempt

Pictured – Fanny Kaplan causes a scene.

Great Man history is, thankfully, no longer in vogue, but one cannot help but wonder what would have happened if Vladimir Lenin had been assassinated at the beginning of the Russian Civil War. On August 30 he was shot while leaving a factory he had been speaking at by Fanny Kaplan (alias of Feiga Haimovna Roytblat). One bullet from Kaplan’s revolver struck Lenin in the lung, the other lodged in his shoulder.

Kaplan was a Socialist Revolutionary, who like many non-Bolsheviks on the Russian left saw Lenin as a despotic traitor to the revolution. Committed to her cause, she allowed herself to be arrested, and gave nothing up under interrogation except for a brief statement on her life.

My name is Fanya Kaplan. Today I shot Lenin. I did it on my own. I will
not say from whom I obtained my revolver. I will give no details. I had
resolved to kill Lenin long ago. I consider him a traitor to the
Revolution. I was exiled to Akatui for participating in an assassination
attempt against a Tsarist official in Kiev. I spent 11 years at hard
labour. After the Revolution, I was freed. I favoured the Constituent
Assembly and am still for it.

The Cheka, Lenin’s secret police, executed her several days later. The Cheka began an official campaign of Red Terror the next day in an attempt to root out other enemies of the Bolshevik revolution.