Canada's Siberian Expedition to Counter Bolshevism, 1919
December 23, 2013 1:33 PM   Subscribe

On a wooded hillside outside Vladivostok, Russia, fourteen Canadians found their final resting place in 1919. Five others died at sea. They were ordinary folk who had enlisted in the closing days of the Great War for service in an unlikely theatre — Siberia. Consisting of 4,209 men and one woman, Canada's Siberian Expedition mobilized alongside a dozen Allied armies in a bid to defeat Lenin’s Bolsheviks. The mission failed — in the face of a robust partisan insurgency, divided Allied strategies, and heated domestic opposition.
This is their story, including over 2,000 photographs and images. Also available in French and Russian.
posted by Rumple (32 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh those Canuck war mongers. Invaded their kindly neighbors to the south once.
posted by sammyo at 1:47 PM on December 23, 2013


Cool post. I did an undergrad paper on this very topic for... what? History of Modern Warfare with Zimmerman? Or maybe is was for the History 240 survey with Alexander. /uvic

I'm surprised not more people know about this. Important to note Canada's expedition was part of a multinational, reactionary effort against the Bolsheviks. Also, Poland had seized the opportunity to once more free itself.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:14 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The site was actually put together out of UVIC by current city councillor Ben Isitt.
posted by Rumple at 2:40 PM on December 23, 2013


I've never heard this story! Am only halfway through and it's absolutely fascinating. Thanks so much for this fantastic post!
posted by zarq at 2:42 PM on December 23, 2013


Most of them were lost in the second battle of the tragic Tugo War, captured in this iconic photo.
posted by Corduroy at 2:51 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Related: the Polar Bear expedition of 1918-1919"a U.S. military intervention in northern Russia at the end of World War I. The ostensible purpose was to open an Eastern Front following the Russian withdrawal from World War I, but in practice the unit stayed to fight Bolshevism."
posted by Rumple at 3:26 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also: The Czechoslovak Legion.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:23 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fascinating stuff, thanks for the post!

> Important to note Canada's expedition was part of a multinational, reactionary effort against the Bolsheviks.

While of course reactionaries were unanimously against the Bolsheviks, to be against the Bolsheviks did not mean being reactionary, unless you consider the majority of Russia's socialists to have been reactionary. (Brief historical note for the benefit of those not up on their early-20th-century Russian/Marxist history: the difference between Lenin's Bolsheviks and the other Marxist parties was not that they were more radical, it was that they were more unified—being defined by a willingness to subordinate themselves unquestioningly to the Central Committee, which in practice usually meant Lenin—and more ruthless. When they mounted their coup, Russia was being run not by tsarists, who had been overthrown by a popular revolution, but by fellow socialists. Soviet propaganda, of course, did its best to obscure this inconvenient fact.) To try to defeat them was in theory a good idea; as I wrote here, "Since Communism was by far the worst thing to hit Russia in a history chock-ful of awfulness, I consider that a noble goal, and if there had been a better alternative and a better way to go about trying to avoid Lenin's triumph it would have been worth trying." In the circumstances, with the only organized local opposition a bunch of repellent anti-Semitic brutes trying to restore the tsarist order in its worst form and with all western troops worn out and western voters wanting to bring them home, it was hopeless and should never have been attempted.
posted by languagehat at 5:18 PM on December 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think you can safely classify Western intervention as "reactionary."
posted by KokuRyu at 6:32 PM on December 23, 2013


It's hard to imagine anyone being worse for Russia than the Bolsheviks. Even the Tsarist government was showing some signs of reform in the early 20th century---from 1905-1912, the Russian legal system was pretty impressive---and Kerensky's Provisional Committee was making rapid strides into real constitutional democracy. Hell, if even the Socialist Revolutionary party had dropped the Bolsheviks before the Bolsheviks dropped (that is, started killing) them, it might have improved things.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:02 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think you can safely classify Western intervention as "reactionary."

Umm, no. Stalin pretty much proved the worst fears of the democratic West were true, and subsequent regimes helped cement the Fascists into power, and drove the US from democratic idealism and back into brutal, cynical pragmatism and economic/religious dogmatism that's still fucking us over to this day. I really wish Kerensky had won.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:28 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


When they mounted their coup, Russia was being run not by tsarists, who had been overthrown by a popular revolution, but by fellow socialists.

Er, "fellow socialists" that were hell bent on destroying the Bolsheviks. There were many people that claimed the name, inside and outside Russia, of "socialist," and not all stood up to their principles around that time -- WWI-era was a time of plenty of betrayals of the socialist cause by socialist leaders.

I really wish Kerensky had won.

When the US, et al "liberate" an area, you don't get a democracy. You get the Tsar. The "White" forces were pro-Tsarist, you realize. The Western intervention was undoubtedly reactionary, unless you want to argue that the Allies could foresee the horrors of Stalinism at that time and were intervening out of benevolence, which would be a terrible argument.

And even if Kerensky hadn't won, the Bolsheviks had opportunities to not screw things up. But then they dissolved the Constituent Assembly when they weren't coming out ahead in the vote. Sigh, missed opportunities...
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:50 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


and subsequent regimes helped cement the Fascists into power, and drove the US from democratic idealism and back into brutal, cynical pragmatism and economic/religious dogmatism that's still fucking us over to this day. I really wish Kerensky had won.

Also, I have to take issue with this. Stalin, for all of his faults, provided the main force that militarily defeated fascism. So, I don't know how you see that Russia helped cement fascism (any more than the West, in any event).

Also, blaming terrible US policy on Soviet Communists is pretty silly. If anything, the opposite can be argued -- US Communists (and fellow travelers) provided the forces that spurred the progressive reforms of the early to mid twentieth century in the US because they believed in the USSR as an example (rightly or wrongly). I mean, right-wingers will always find some way to scare people -- terrorism, anthrax, Iran ... it doesn't need to be The Red Menace. One could characterize what Wilson and his predecessors were doing around the world pre-1917 as many things, but "democratic idealism" isn't one of them.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:59 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Er, "fellow socialists" that were hell bent on destroying the Bolsheviks.

Yes, and? You don't consider someone a "real socialist" unless they're willing to follow the glorious Lenin over the cliff?

> unless you want to argue that the Allies could foresee the horrors of Stalinism at that time and were intervening out of benevolence, which would be a terrible argument.

Why? Leaving aside the details of "the horrors of Stalinism," which were historically contingent and even Stalin couldn't foresee in 1918, plenty of people foresaw that the Bolsheviks were going to cause great evil. Why would it be terrible to try to prevent that?

> Stalin, for all of his faults

Oh, you're one of those people. Tell me, how do you feel about someone who would start a sentence "Hitler, for all of his faults..."?
posted by languagehat at 7:48 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


As my mother and grandmother used to say, "Hitler for all his faults, at least got people back to work." Uh, wait a minute...
posted by KokuRyu at 9:42 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Considering that the major element distinguishing the Bolsheviks from other socialist parties was an enthusiasm for ruthlessness and a contempt for legal mechanisms, it wasn't exactly hard to tell that they were going to be a very bad lot.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:03 PM on December 24, 2013


Oh, you're one of those people.

Yes, one of "those people" who, when the name of Great Enemy X is intoned, doesn't rush to immediately, unequivocally and loudly denounce him/her/it with the rest of the mob. Personally, I consider this a positive trait.

I think you mistake me for some kind of Lenin/Stalin/Hitler? apologist. No doubt these people presided over some dark periods in humankind (and I probably share a lot of your analysis in this regard), but to say that they did nothing -- nothing! -- positive for anyone at any time is really silly. Maybe in retrospect you would rather that they hadn't come to power, but that's a different argument.

Yes, and? You don't consider someone a "real socialist" unless they're willing to follow the glorious Lenin over the cliff?

I think holding up Kerensky as some saint of democracy is not a very nuanced analysis. He did, after all, quasi-invite Kornilov in to Petrograd to crush the Revolution. Among other things.

My point is that Kerensky was one in a cadre of nominally socialist leaders that betrayed the ideals of socialism in various ways around the time of WWI and after (in addition to the leaders of the German SPD, for instance).
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 12:13 PM on December 24, 2013


Considering that the major element distinguishing the Bolsheviks from other socialist parties was an enthusiasm for ruthlessness and a contempt for legal mechanisms, it wasn't exactly hard to tell that they were going to be a very bad lot.

As opposed to the Kerensky government, who was sending Russians to their deaths in droves in a pointless nationalistic, imperialist war started by the Tsar.

Let's not pretend that things were going just fine until the Big Bad Bolshis came along. They were really the only party with any legitimacy -- because all other factions had largely discredited themselves -- by the time they seized power in October.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 12:51 PM on December 24, 2013


There were bona fide Stalinists at the university I attended in Canada in the late 90's. Fucking creeps.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:57 PM on December 24, 2013


Oh yeah, there were a few at my college in the 90s as well. Awful creatures---Stalinists are basically neo-Nazis with uni degrees.

And npb? It is flatly untrue that the Bolsheviks were the only party with legitimacy. The Mensheviks had gotten more votes in the council. The Socialist Revolutionaries had far more members and more support in the country. But the Bolsheviks systematically seduced, betrayed, and murdered all the other socialist parties until they were the last ones standing.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:20 PM on December 24, 2013


ThatFuzzyBastard: what is "the council" that you are referring to?
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:32 PM on December 24, 2013


> to say that they did nothing -- nothing! -- positive for anyone at any time is really silly.

Nobody said that.

> I think holding up Kerensky as some saint of democracy is not a very nuanced analysis.

Nobody said that.

> Let's not pretend that things were going just fine until the Big Bad Bolshis came along.

Nobody said that.

> My point is that Kerensky was one in a cadre of nominally socialist leaders that betrayed the ideals of socialism in various ways around the time of WWI and after (in addition to the leaders of the German SPD, for instance).

That's a pretty feeble point to be insisting on in this context, unless you consider fidelity to the ideals of whichever microfraction of socialism you happen to subscribe to more important than millions of human lives and decades of untold human suffering. Which was, of course, Lenin's point of view (and no, I'm not equating you with Lenin, just pointing out an interesting fact).
posted by languagehat at 7:11 AM on December 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Regarding the Bolshevik-Menshevik vote: http://www.marxists.org/archive/weisbord/Ignorance.htm
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:18 AM on December 25, 2013


ThatFuzzyBastard: I'm aware of the 1903 council vote (and what an exception it was wrt majority/minority). But 1917 scrambled a lot of the political dynamics of the country wrt party preferences. At least in the Constituent Assembly vote taken among the general population, Bolsheviks came out ahead of Mensheviks.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 3:30 PM on December 25, 2013


> At least in the Constituent Assembly vote taken among the general population, Bolsheviks came out ahead of Mensheviks.

The Bolsheviks got less than a quarter of the vote; the SRs got over 40%.
posted by languagehat at 5:44 PM on December 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bolshevik!

interesting bit of history i had not known about going up way up there above the 50th parallel.

Suppose it was too cold and fractionalized and strange to have any real war despite the gathering of the forces.

Bit of an eye opener how the Reds got into canada. Left a legacy in Healthcare!
posted by Colonel Panic at 11:55 AM on December 26, 2013


"What would the SRs have done?" is one of the great counterfactuals in Russian history. They had far more support than anyone else in Russia; had they not made the mistake of trusting Lenin, they almost certainly could have seized the country with a broad-based uprising. How an SR government would have reshaped Russian and world history is fascinating to ponder.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:17 PM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, just to put a bit more of my cards on the table, my thinking about the Russian Revolution is largely influenced by Geoff Eley's Forging Democracy chapter on the subject:

p. 142: For socialists advocating national unity, social polarization had disastrous effects. But as the only group untainted by the Provisional Government’s drift, the Bolsheviks rode it into power. When the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets convened in early June, Bolsheviks were still weaker than Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (105 delegates, as against 248 and 245, in a total of 822). But June–July worked compellingly in their favor. Kornilov’s defeat was the final increment of radicalization. The Petrograd and Moscow Soviets voted the Bolshevik program, their executives passing quickly under Bolshevik control. The party’s membership confirmed this ascent: in February, it numbered only 2,000 in Petrograd and 600 in Moscow, but by October the figures were 60,000 and 70,000, in a national total of 350,000. With the government paralyzed, the other socialists compromised, the masses keyed for action, and the Soviet apparatus firmly under Bolshevik control, the seizure of power, on the night of 24– 25 October 1917, proved relatively simple.

and

p. 146: Bolshevism rose to power by organizing this popular radicalization. Bolshevik success is often reduced to superior organization—in the model of the disciplined, monolithic, highly centralist party of professional revolutionaries ascribed to Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? of 1902. Yet from the moment of Lenin’s return to Petrograd, Bolshevik strategy evolved through disagreements, whether around Lenin’s April Theses, in the confusion of the July Days, or in Lev Kamenev’s and Grigory Zinoviev’s opposition to the seizure of power. This atmosphere of debate belies the stereotypical image of the vanguard party.

and

p. 150: As the Bolsheviks desired, political choices were being polarized. On one side was the formal legitimacy conferred by the imminent Constituent Assembly and the parliamentary system advocated by the Provisional Government; on the other was the new revolutionary legitimacy of the soviets. In ostentatiously leaving the Soviet Congress, the Mensheviks and Right SRs left no doubt where their allegiance lay. This destroyed all chances for giving the new regime a nonpartisan socialist basis. The Bolshevik rising commanded powerful support, especially with militants in the army and factories. But, equally, there were strong unity sentiments for a coalition of all socialists, providing it was antibourgeois. This was the potential the Mensheviks and Right SRs fatally squandered. As the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov later conceded, “we completely untied the Bolsheviks’ hands, making them masters of the entire situation and yielding to them the whole arena of the revolution.”
Thus the Constituent Assembly was already delegitimized even before the elections of 12 November 1917.

posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:39 PM on December 26, 2013


> Thus the Constituent Assembly was already delegitimized even before the elections of 12 November 1917.

While the previous quotes are reasonably accurate, though I'd argue with some of the emphases, this is completely absurd, unless by "delegitimized" one means "unacceptable to the Bolsheviks." In general, getting your information about Russian history from a historian of Germany is probably not a good idea; if you really want to dig into the Glorious October Revolution and what preceded and followed it, I can recommend a ton of good books, starting with Harrison E. Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow: Russian Revolutions, 1905-1917, and Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution.
posted by languagehat at 9:17 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, and on the SRs (I agree with ThatFuzzyBastard that they're a fascinating and underappreciated element), I recommend Michael Melancon’s The Socialist Revolutionaries and the Russian Anti-war Movement, which I review here (scroll down).
posted by languagehat at 9:20 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks, languagehat! I wasn't aware of that book about the SRs, myself!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:15 PM on December 27, 2013


I found the Figes book to be excellent.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:18 AM on December 28, 2013


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