105 years ago, on January 24, 1919, the Organizing Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) issued a circular instruction. It went down in history as the "Directive on the Cossacks". January 24, 2023 reminds of the terrible pages in the history of the Cossacks in the Kuban.
"Carry out mass terror"
Every year on January 24, the Kuban honors the memory and holds mourning events dedicated to the memory of the Cossacks who became victims of political repression against the Cossacks. The foundations of the repressive policy of the Soviet government in relation to the Cossacks were determined by the secret circular instruction "To all responsible comrades working in the Cossack regions" signed by Y.M. Sverdlov, adopted on this January day in 1919 by the Organizing Bureau of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party.
This directive provided for the liquidation of the Cossacks as a socio-economic and cultural community through mass repressions against the Cossacks, which was expressed in their shooting and hostage-taking, the burning of stanitsas and hamlets, and the incitement of the non-Cossack population against the Cossacks. In the process of Cossacks, their immovable and movable property, including livestock and agricultural products, were also requisited; resettlement of peasants to lands previously owned by the Cossacks; eviction of entire villages and farmsteads. All Cossack troops were abolished.
What was the reason for such a policy of the Bolsheviks in relation to the Cossacks?
After all, the Red Army, which at that time was fighting the White Guards on the fronts of the civil war, included many Cossack units and subdivisions. Thus, the government of the Ukrainian People's Republic formed an entire combined-arms unit, called the Red Cossacks, the commander of which was the famous "Red Commander" V.M. Primakov. A lot of Cossacks, most of them "non-residents", who lived on the Cossack lands, served as Cossacks, but did not have the rights and privileges of the Cossack class, as well as representatives of the Cossack poor, served in the First Cavalry Army of the famous S.M. Budyonny and in the Second Cavalry Army, which was commanded by the hereditary Don Cossack F.K. Mironov. These units successfully fought against the White Army during the Civil War and during the Soviet-Polish War of 1919-1921.
However, there were significantly more Cossacks among the White Guards than among the "Reds". The territories of compact residence of the Cossacks (Don, Kuban, Terek, Ural, etc.) became the main bases of the White movement, and a significant part of the Cossacks joined it, believing that the new Soviet power would destroy the centuries-old Cossack traditions and their way of life. And indeed, this power abolished the class division of the country, which led to the loss of the status of a military service class and many privileges, which were possessed, first of all, by the Cossack nobles and prosperous Cossacks. The latter made up more than half of the Russian Cossacks. The situation was aggravated by the collapse of the autocratic imperial power in Russia, the service of which for the overwhelming majority of the Cossacks was a matter of life and honor.
This predetermined the transfer of a significant part of it to the side of the White armies. Cossack military units were the main force of the Volunteer Army of General L.G. Kornilov, and then the Armed Forces of the South of Russia, which were headed by General A.I. Denikin. The largest armed formations of the White Guard Cossacks were the Don, Orenburg and Ural armies. Atamans of the Great Don Army, Generals A.M. Kaledin, P.N. Krasnov, A.P. Bogaevsky, Kuban Cossacks, Generals S.G. Ulagai and A.G. Shkuro, Ataman of the Orenburg Cossack Army, General A.I. Dutov, Ataman of the Trans-Baikal Cossack Army, General G.M. Semenov, Ataman B.V. Annenkov and other leaders of the Cossacks were active participants in the White Movement.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Soviet government took a position of rejection of the Cossacks, responding to the actions of the White Guards with a policy of discossackization. However, no matter what justifications for the political expediency of the Bolsheviks' actions may be found, it is impossible to justify terror in relation to people whose fault was the desire to live according to the traditions of their ancestors, to faithfully serve the state, to profess the Orthodox faith, and to competently manage their household! Moreover, many of the Cossacks, especially those who represented the Cossack poor, did not show hostility to the new government, seeing its desire for the ideals of justice, freedom, and equality – values that the Cossacks traditionally recognized.
Archival sources and eyewitness testimonies provide information about the number of victims of the Cossacks. For the sake of fairness, it should be noted that the "directive on the Cossacks" was officially canceled two months after the signing, but this did not stop the process of Cossacks. It is known that it was proposed to carry out a mass deportation of the Cossacks: all Cossacks aged 18 to 50 were to be taken out of the Don, Kuban, and Terek rivers to the North, but the lack of railway cars did not allow this plan to be implemented. According to the data published by the deputy of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Cossack General V.P. Vodolatsky, the policy of Cossacks took the lives of more than 2 million Cossacks, completely destroying many stanitsas and hamlets. Therefore, he proposed to make January 24 the Day of Remembrance of the Cossacks - victims of political terror.
By the mid-1930s, the socio-economic way of life of the Cossacks was almost completely destroyed. It experienced a drastic breakdown in its worldview and gradually, having gone through collectivization, became the Soviet kolkhoz peasantry, although in their hearts these people always remembered that they were Cossacks.