File No. 861.00/2983

The Consul General at Irkutsk ( Harris ) to the Secretary of State

No. 8

Sir: I have the honor to make the following further report concerning the actions of the Czecho-Slovaks in Siberia.

On July 11 the Czech and Cossack troops captured the city of Irkutsk practically without resistance, the Red Guard and Bolsheviks having retired from the city the day before, after having blown up the bridge over the Irkut River. Preceding this event a number of things happened which are worthy of mention.

On June 14, a few days after my return from Novo Nikolaevsk, as reported in my No. 7,1 an attempt was made in the city of Irkutsk to overthrow the Bolsheviks and the Red Guard, the latter consisting chiefly of armed prisoners of war. It is claimed that the attacking party of the White Guard consisted of about one thousand men. It appears, from all the facts at hand, that the main object of this attack, was to release about one hundred Russian officers from the prison situated in the north of the city. These prisoners consisted chiefly of anti-Bolsheviks and political prisoners who were all adherents of the various parties who tried to overthrow the Bolsheviks. If the liberation of these prisoners was the real object of the attacking party, then they fully succeeded in carrying their object. One party of revolutionaries made a feint attack on the bridge near the railroad station, and after killing a few of the guards stationed there, and drawing a considerable force of the Bolsheviks to the south of the city, they withdrew. In the meantime the main body of the White Guard made a determined attack on the prison to the north of the city. Here they met with practically no resistance. The prison was taken and the Commissar in command and his two assistants were killed. The Russian officers in the jail were all released and they immediately joined the White Guard. The criminals incarcerated in the jail were not released. The revolutionaries, or White Guard, then took possession of some of the workshops on the northern outskirts of the city, but were only able to hold them temporarily. Factory whistles summoned the Red Guard from all parts of the city to arms, this having been agreed upon as the signal in case of attack. Inasmuch as these workshops, which had been appointed as a place of meeting for the Red Guard of the Bolsheviks, were temporarily held by the White Guard, each assembling member of the Red Guard was relieved of his rifle and ammunition [Page 310] as he approached. A considerable quantity of arms and ammunition must have been collected by the revolutionaries in this way.

A fight for the possession of the northern suburbs of the city and the prison took place between the revolutionary forces and the Red Guard between the hours of 4 and 9 in the morning. The forces of the Red Guard were augmented by large numbers of armed German and Austrian prisoners, some of whom were partly clad in the uniforms of their respective countries, while others appeared in the uniforms of the Red Guard. These armed prisoners were, in fact, the strongest element among the Red Guard from that date until the occupation of the city by the Czechs, in complete charge of all responsible posts in Irkutsk. The military motor cars were all under the command of armed prisoners. The White Guard not being able to withstand the heavy machine-gun fire of the Red Guard was compelled to withdraw to the north of the city about 9 o’clock.

On the 15th of June I had a conversation with Yansen and Geyzman, the Commissars of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet here in Irkutsk, concerning this uprising, and was informed by them that the attempt to overthrow the Bolsheviki authorities had been previously communicated to them, and they were thus enabled to meet and insure the failure of the movement by a wise disposition of the Red Guard troops.

As the Czech echelons advanced nearer to Irkutsk the Bolsheviks made every preparation to evacuate the city. The so-called central Siberian government was the first to go, taking up its headquarters at Verkhneudinsk, a town in the Trans-Baikal district. Money, ammunition, and food supplies were slowly sent away until it became apparent to the inhabitants that unless some steps were taken to prevent it, the city would be left without sufficient supplies to undergo a state of siege as might be the case if the Red Guard offered any serious resistance. The Consular Corps of Irkutsk called upon a representative of the Bolshevik government left in charge of the city and requested that a sufficient quantity of food be left to the inhabitants, especially so, as owing to the unsettled condition of the surrounding country, it would be impossible for the peasants to bring in their farm produce. Little satisfaction was obtained from this individual who was extremely coarse and brutal in his make-up. The Danish Vice Consul, who was present, for example, called his attention to the fact that on the preceding day the Red Guard under his command had invaded the supply stores which contained provisions for the prisoners of war. The Danish Vice Consul further declared that inasmuch as he had charge of the interests of the Austrian prisoners in Irkutsk, and as the supplies in question were really the property of the Danish Government, he felt called upon to protest [Page 311] energetically against the lawless actions of the Red Guard. The Bolshevik: commander replied that he was cognizant of the fact, but the only satisfaction that he would give in return was, in effect, that he would take all the supplies in case he saw fit to do so. This shows the attitude of the Bolshevik leaders towards those prisoners of war who refused to listen to Bolshevik propaganda and join the Red Guard to assist in keeping the Bolsheviks in power.

During the last few days the local Soviet remained in Irkutsk the city was turned over entirely to the anarchists, of whom there were a number variously estimated at from three to five hundred. They were all well armed and well mounted. The city was turned over to martial law. Everyone was obliged to be at home by 7 o’clock in the evening. Innumerable robberies by bands of anarchists were perpetrated both by day and night. I was witness personally of one such high-handed robbery in the magazine of the Singer Sewing Machine Co. This robbery was committed by six Austrian anarchists, one of whom wore the Austrian uniform. Five sewing machines were taken and the hour chosen for this deed was 11 in the morning upon the main street of Irkutsk. The city was completely terrorized by these anarchists until within a few hours of the time when the Czech and Cossack calvary entered. At 11 o’clock on the day the city was delivered the city commandant above referred to went to the Commissariat of Stores for Irkutsk and demanded 75,000 rubles in money and a large stock of clothing. Upon being refused he promptly sent for a troop of about fifty mounted anarchists, and the money and clothes were taken by force. I was also witness to this act of lawlessness.

In connection with this last-mentioned act I have the following to state: shortly after the anarchists had departed, and before the Czechs entered, three members of the Commissariat called at the Consulate and asked me to take charge of 100,000 rubles which they had been successful in holding or hiding from the Bolsheviks. Having been informed the day before of the intention of the anarchists to rob this organization, they had taken steps during the night to falsify the books in such a manner that there would be no clew to the deficiency. They were informed that it would be impossible for the Consulate to take charge of the money in question.

As has been said, the Czechs entered the city on July 11 and were received with enthusiasm by the people. As if by magic, law and order were established, and the streets became crowded with every class of society exceedingly happy at having been rescued from Bolshevik rule. The White Guard took over policing the city and the former local Duma assumed charge of the municipal government, [Page 312] Shops were opened, even many which had no goods for sale. The banks were denationalized and people are slowly bringing in money for deposit. The price of food showed a downward tendency, and there is also a much larger supply on the market now than when the Bolsheviks were in power. The rights of the church have been restored, and law courts have resumed the dispensation of justice. In the autumn all schools and higher educational institutions in the city will be opened as prior to the advent of the Bolsheviks.

With the passing of the Bolsheviks the people of Siberia are coming to themselves again. All along the Siberian Railroad line summary justice is being meted out to the leaders of the Red Guard and Commissars. Austrian and German prisoners caught by the Czechs with arms in their possession are immediately shot, while all Red Guard prisoners of Russian nationality are handed over to the Cossacks and White Guard for such treatment as their case may require. The fate of most of the Commissars thus far caught has been hanging, especially those in the large cities. In contradistinction to this, the chairmen of the Soviets in the small villages received from twenty-five to fifty lashes from an old fashioned Russian whip which was often resorted to here in Siberia under the old regime. It usually takes from two to three months to cure the unfortunate subject who has been administered treatment of this nature.

Politically speaking a new Siberian government is being formed, but judging from all indications it would appear that this government, which is passing through the constituent phase, is inclined to waste its energies in factional strife and lose sight of the great things which must be done in order that Russia may once again become a nation. It would appear that the people have not fully taken to heart the terrible lessons which have been taught them by the Bolsheviks, and that a still powerful Social Revolutionary element will be able to foment strife and impede the progress of the country along the lines of sound and rational democracy. The great danger lies herein, that if the Russian people are left entirely to themselves they will not be able to rise above the governmental status which obtained during the Kerensky fiasco. There is but one line of policy which will save Russia, and it is a policy from which her leaders should never have departed; namely, she should have, and must to-day, remain true and steadfast to all the obligations to her Allies and fight to a finish her German foes who have invaded Russian territory, and who, through underhand methods and scheming intrigues, caused the direct downfall of this country—an act which is so colossal that the human mind cannot grasp it in all its potentialities fraught with the gravest consequences for the future, and something which knows no parallel in the history of the world.

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Unquestionably a psychological moment has arrived in the history of Russia. Shakespeare has said that there is a time and tide in the affairs of man. What is true in the framing of the destinies of the individual, if seized upon at the right moment, is doubly true if applied to the affairs of nations. A handful of Czecho-Slovak soldiers, men of unparalleled courage, trained in the school of adversity, having always in mind the oppression of their own country, after fighting their way out of the hands of their Austro-German pursuers, after fighting their way out of the Ukraine, after being completely disarmed in the city of Penza, realizing that the time had come for action which meant to them liberty or death, they have, unaided by the assistance of the outside world, entirely dependent upon their own resources in the heart of a vast continent and surrounded by enemies whose every act toward them meant ruin, performed a deed which will live in history as long as the deeds of mankind shall be worthy of chronicling. Furthermore, if we are to look at the actual practical results of what these Czecho-Slovaks have achieved, it is nothing more or less than the Siberian Railroad line, which would extend from Liverpool to San Francisco, [which] has been handed to the Allies to take advantage of in the stupendous struggle which we are now waging against Germany. There are a few things which we must all realize and the more forcibly they are visualized the better it will be for all concerned. First, it is absolutely necessary that the Czecho-Slovak troops should remain in Russia and not be sent to France as was originally intended. No one knows the frame of mind, customs, and habits of the Russian people better than the Czechs. They all speak Russian, and if their units are left unimpaired they will form the backbone of Allied intervention and in [of] once more reestablishing a front against Germany in Russia. The thinking people of Russia realize the necessity of the continuation of the war against the Central powers and the moment the line of communication is reestablished with Vladivostok, Allied troops must hasten to the assistance of the Czechs.

In my judgment a military dictatorship should be established in Siberia and Russia during the time of war. During the period of such dictatorship the Russian people will have an opportunity to find themselves politically, and it is quite likely that the country will gradually gravitate to the opinion that the Cadet Party, which has as its leaders such men as Milyukov, Guchkov, Prince Lvov, General Alexeev, General Horvat, Admiral Kolchak, and Rodzyanko, will best be able to inaugurate a safe and conservative republic. Time would also be given to the Russian people to map out a complete program and elect members to the Constituent Assembly after the war with Germany is over. One thing appears certain, [Page 314] and that is politics must be completely eliminated from the military situation, otherwise Russia will retrograde back again to Bolshevikism.

At the present writing the Czechs and Cossacks control the Siberian Railroad from Penza to Lake Baikal. Orenburg is also in the hands of the Cossacks, as well as Simbirsk on the Volga, and Ekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains. Colonel Gaida, the Czech commander of the Czech forces in Irkutsk, is carrying on an energetic campaign against the remaining Red Guard and Magyar prisoners of war. He hopes to decisively crush them in about a fortnight’s time, thus opening up the way to Vladivostok. His operations are somewhat hampered by the lack of rolling stock, which the Bolsheviks removed before the evacuation from Irkutsk, but with the rapid repair of certain bridges and tunnels which were partially destroyed all impediments are being overcome. It is expected that telegraphic communication with Peking will be reestablished before communications with Vladivostok are restored. If such is the case the whole of Siberia, which has been cut off from the outside world during a space of one month, will once more come in contact with civilization.

I have [etc.]1

Ernest L. Harris
  1. Not printed.
  2. For enclosure No. 7 to this despatch, see ante, p. 248.