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News

Black Date in the History of the Cossacks

24.01.2018

January 24, is a mournful date in the history of Cossacks. On that day in 1919, a meeting of the Organizing Bureau of the Russian Communist Party (of Bolsheviks) Central Committee was held to adopt a text of the “Circular Letter of the Central Committee on the Attitude to the Cossacks”. That document marked a beginning of repressions against the Cossacks and gave rise to the Upper Don insurrection, which is the central theme of the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don” by M.A.Sholokhov.

The Letter was signed by Y.Sverdlov, N.Krestinsky an M.Vladimirsky, but often it is called “Sverdlov’s Directive”. Here is the text of the document:

“Circularly, secretly. The latest events on different fronts in Cossack districts – our advance into the depths of the Cossack settlements and decay among the Cossack troops – make us give instructions to the Party workers about the peculiarity of their work on re-creation and strengthening of the Soviet power in these areas. Taking into account the experience of the Civil War against Cossacks it is necessary to acknowledge the only correct thing – the most ruthless struggle against the entire Cossack summit by their total extermination. No compromises, no half way is acceptable. Thus it is necessary:

1.To commit a mass terror against rich Cossacks to exterminate them one and all; to commit a merciless mass terror against all Cossacks who directly or indirectly participated in the struggle against the Soviet power. The middle Cossacks must be applied all the measures to guarantee against any attempts on their part to launch new actions against the Soviet power.

2.To confiscate bread and force the middle Cossacks to pour all the surplus at the indicated points. This refers to both bread and all other agricultural products.

3.To take all measures to assist the resettling out-of-town poor people by organizing their resettlement, where it is possible.

4. To equalize the non-residents to Cossacks in land and in other relations.

5.To carry out a complete disarmament and to shoot everyone possessing weapons after the deadline.

6.To give weapons only to reliable persons from nonresidents.

7.The armed units must remain in the Cossack stanitsas up to a complete order established.

8.All the Commissars assigned to certain Cossack settlements, must exercise maximum hardness and adhere to these instructions.

9.The Central Committee decrees to carry out the work through the relevant Soviet institutions, the People's Commissariat should develop in no time the concrete measures on mass resettlement of the poor people on Cossack lands.

Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party”.

Soon after the Directive was issued, the newspaper “Izvestiya of the People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs” published an article by I.Vatsetis, who openly called for terror against Cossacks: “The old Cossacks must be burnt in the flames of the social revolution. The hundred-million proletariat has no moral right to be generous to the Don… The Don must be made horseless, weaponless and whipless…”

“Sverdlov’s Directive” was published at the moment, when Cossacks tired of exhausting military operations “reconciled” themselves to Bolsheviks and got back home to their villages and stanitsas. P.N.Kudinov, the commander of the insurrection united forces recalled: “…The Cossacks and the Reds signed an agreement. Firstly, Cossacks were to open the front for the Reds, but remain armed and go home. Secondly, Cossacks were to assist the Red Army against monarchists <…> Thirdly, the Red Army in the Don region wouldn’t repress us for serving for the Whites, as “a fault confessed is half redressed”. Having signed the agreement Cossacks opened the front and went home…” Those who stayed in the villages and stanitsas actually having accepted the Soviet power (or put up with it), did not know that at that very time, the Organizing Bureau of the Russian Communist Party Central Committee issued a secret directive and instructed to show a maximum firmness in carrying it out. The Don Bureau headed by S.I.Syrtsov took all measures “to resolutely suppress the Cossacks as the counter-revolutionary class”. Temporary regimental military tribunals were formed, and the Revolutionary Military Council of the Southern Front sent a telegram to Lenin, Moscow: “It is necessary to make concentration camps with a complete removal of the Cossack element from the Don area and the front”.

Members of the local Revolutionary Committee fulfilled and exceeded the instructions with enviable zeal. One of the personages of the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don” by M.A.Sholokhov, a Cossack old-believer, tells about Commissar Malkin: “He takes old people from the villages to the brushwood, kills them and forbids their relatives to bury them. Their fault is that they were once elected as stanitsa’s judges. And here, this Malkin, like God, disposes of other people's lives…” Ivan Pavlovich Malkin was a real historical figure, a former locksmith, who implemented “Sverdlov’s Directive” in the stanitsas of Ust-Medveditskaya, Slashchovskaya and Bukanovskaya.

There are a lot of examples of the Don Commissars abusing their power, plundering the villagers, shooting innocent people. The Bolsheviks themselves

informed about such cases in their reports to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party.

Driven into despair the Cossacks were able to organize themselves and raised an insurrection. Later Sholokhov wrote in his letter to Gorky: “Exaggerating nothing I have depicted a harsh reality preceding the insurrection; and I deliberately missed such facts, which directly caused the uprising, as an extrajudicial shooting 62 old Cossacks in Stanitsa Migulinskaya or shooting in the stanitsas of Kazanskaya and Shumilinskaya, where a number of shot Cossacks (the former elected village atamans, St. George Cavaliers, wachtmeisters, village honorary judges, school trustees and other representatives of village bourgeoisie and counter-revolution) within 6 days reached the great of more than 400 people”.

However, despite the most severe repression the Cossacks community did not die. Cossacks are proud of their ancestors’ glory, they strive to preserve their way of life, customs, traditions and culture. And this was considerably contributed by Mikhail Sholokhov, who with extraordinary artistic power and honesty depicted the tragedy of the Cossacks.

In 1991, the practice of Cossack deletion using measures of violence and mass destruction of Cossacks was condemned by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and later the decrees of the President of Russia about rehabilitation of the Cossacks were adopted.

 

Olga Bakhtiyarova