The Tambov Rebellion (historically referred to in the Soviet Union as Antonovshchina), which occurred between 1920 and 1921, was one of the largest and best-organized peasant rebellions challenging the Bolshevik regime during the Russian Civil War.[9][10] The uprising took place in the territories of the modern Tambov Oblast and part of the Voronezh Oblast, less than 300 miles southeast of Moscow.

Tambov Rebellion
Part of the Russian Civil War
Tambov Rebellion.png
Date19 August 1920 – June 1921
Result Bolshevik victory
Green armies Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Russian SFSR
Commanders and leaders
Alexander Antonov

Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Mikhail Tukhachevsky
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Alexander Schlichter
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Ieronim Uborevich
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Grigory Kotovsky

Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Sergey Kamenev
Probably 20,000 regular and 20,000 militiamen[1]
14,000 (August 1920)[2]
50,000 (October 1920)[3]
40,000[4] - 70,000[5] (February 1921)
1,000 (September 1921)[4]
5,000 (November 1920)[3]
50,000[6] - 100,000(March 1921)[7]
Casualties and losses
50,000 civilian internees in fields[4]
240,000 dead[8]

In Soviet historiography, the rebellion was referred to as the "Antonov's mutiny", or Antonovschina, named so after Alexander Antonov, a former official of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, who turned against the government of the Bolsheviks. It began in August 1920 with resistance to the forced confiscation of grain and developed into a guerrilla war against the Red Army, Cheka units and the Soviet Russian authorities. It is estimated that around 100,000 people were arrested and around 15,000 shot dead during the suppression of the uprising. The Red Army also used chemical weapons to fight the peasants.[6] The bulk of the peasant army was destroyed in the summer of 1921, smaller groups continued until the following year. The movement was later portrayed by the Soviets as anarchical banditry, similar to other anti-Soviet movements that opposed them during this period.


Alexander Antonov (centre) and his staff

The Soviet government had moved on to the policy war communism during the Russian Civil War. Food for the needs of the cities was obtained by compulsory requisition from the villages without any financial compensation. This was met with the resistance of the peasant population, especially as the requisitions were often violent in nature. Likewise, the amount of cereals to be requisitioned were not measured according to production. Instead, commissions gave a rough estimate based on pre-war production, so that devastation, crop failures, and population decline were not included. [11] The peasants often responded by reducing their acreage, as they no longer had the economic incentive to produce surpluses. This made the deliveries ordered from above even more utopian. [12] Unlike in the cities, the Bolsheviks had hardly any supporters in the rural regions, where in the various elections of the year 1917 the Socialist Revolutionaries had always won large majorities. For the most part, the peasants met with indifference to Bolshevik ideology. [11] The Soviet politician Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko, who himself later dealt with the suppression of the uprising, characterized the peasants as follows:

(They) have become accustomed to regard the Soviet Government as something alien, something that does nothing but give orders that manage with great zeal, but little economic mind.

The requisition policy was implemented (among other places) in the Tambov Governorate, a relatively wealthy agrarian region 350 kilometers southeast of Moscow. The peasants of the Governorate had largely supported the October Revolution, since Lenin's Decree on Land legalized the expropriation of property. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks had problems over the years in maintaining control of the governorate. In March 1918, their delegates were even thrown out of the local Soviets when the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was concluded. Although they managed to consolidate their rule in the next few years, the use of force was necessary again and again, in increasingly greater degrees of intensity. [13]

Before the revolution, the peasants in the governorate produced around one million tonnes of grain. Of these, one-third was exported. On the basis of these figures, which did not include the dislocations of the civil war in the countryside, a high target for the procurement of grain was set. [11] By January 1921, only half of the grain had been collected. Antonov-Ovseyenko noticed from his own experience that every other farmer in Tambov was starving. [11]

The revolt began on 19 August 1920 in a small town of Khitrovo, where a military requisitioning detachment of the Red Army appropriated everything they could and "beat up elderly men of seventy in full view of the public".[10]

On 2 February 1921, the Soviet leadership announced the end of the "prodrazvyorstka", and issued a special decree directed at peasants from the region implementing the "prodnalog" policy. The new policy was essentially a tax on grain and other foodstuffs. This was done prior to the 10th Congress of the Bolsheviks, when the measure was officially adopted. The announcement began circulating in the Tambov area on 9 February 1921. The Tambov uprising and unrest elsewhere were significant reasons that the "prodnalog" policy was implemented and the "prodrazvyorstka" was abandoned.[14]

Outbreak of the UprisingEdit

In August 1920, the peasants' armed resistance to re-capture grain began in a village in the Tambov province called Chitrovo. The farmers refused to deliver their grain to the Bolsheviks and killed several members of the local procurement team. A Soviet government report summarized the reasons for the violence as follows:

The commandos were guilty of some abuses. On their passage they plundered everything, even pillows and kitchen utensils. They shared the spoils and beat old men of 70 years old in front of everyone. Elders were punished for failing to catch their deserting sons who were hiding in the woods (...) What also puzzled the peasants was the fact that the confiscated corn had been carted to the nearest train station and left to spoil there in the open air.

In anticipation of an attack by the Red Army to enforce the procurement of grain, the farmers of the village armed themselves. Since only a few rifles were available, this was partly done with pitchforks and clubs. Other villages joined in the uprising against the Soviet authorities, and succeeded in repulsing the Red Army. One factor contributing to this success was the Red Army's involvement in the simultaneous Polish-Soviet War and crackdown on Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel's White Army in the Crimea, which resulted in the loss of only about 3,000 Red Army soldiers in the Tambov region. These soldiers had been drafted from the local villages and often had little motivation to fight members of their own class.[11]

The peasants, after their first success, attempted to capture Tambov, the capital of the governorate. There, however, they failed to defeat the Red Army. It was here that Alexander Stepanovich Antonov, a radical Left Socialist-Revolutionary, led the movement into a guerilla war with the Reds. Before the uprising, Antonov and a few comrades had fought an underground insurrection against the Bolsheviks and had been sentenced to death. Since he was able to escape persecution by the Soviet authorities, he was a kind of folk hero to the peasants. He demanded that the free trade and movement of goods should be allowed to end, that the grain recquisitions should be ended and the Soviet administration and the Cheka dissolved. [15] His troops carried out surprise raids on railway junctions, kolkhoz and the Soviet authorities. They were supported by the population and used Tambov's villages for cover and rest. Likewise, they often disguised themselves as Red Army soldiers to move about the countryside or to exaggerate the element of surprise. [11] Socialist Revolutionaries in the Tambov region also founded a "League of Working Peasants", which was to function as the political organization of the insurgents and with which Antonov worked, even though he had left the party. [9][15] Antonov organized the farmers on the model of the Red Army in 18-20 regiments with their own political commissars, reconnaissance departments and communication departments. Likewise, he introduced a strict discipline. [11] The farmers used the Red flag as their standard and thus claimed the central symbol of the revolution.[11]

Georgi Zhukov, who commanded a cavalry squadron in battles with the rebels, described the strategy of the insurgents in his [memoirs]: [16]

The tactics of the Antonovschina amounted mostly to avoiding fights with larger units of the Red Army. They engaged in battle only if absolute certainty of victory existed and their own forces were superior. And if necessary, skirmishes in small groups fighting from an unfavorable situation, and only after they set down directions to re-group at an agreed meeting place.

They were able to control large parts of the region and managed to capture railway trains transporting requisitioned grain. The grain intended to supply red army gunmen was instead re-distributed by Antonov's men back to local farmers. The rebellion also spread to parts of the provinces: Voronezh, Saratov and Pensa. In the areas controlled by them, all Soviet institutions were abolished. Around 1,000 members of the Communist Party of Russia were killed by the insurgents. [11] In October 1920, the Bolsheviks had completely lost control of the rural territory of the governorate, dominating only the city Tambov itself and a number of smaller urban settlements. [15]. After numerous deserters from the Red Army joined it, the peasant army numbered over 50,000 fighters. The rebel militia proved highly effective and even infiltrated the Tambov Cheka.[10]

The seriousness of the uprising caused the establishment of the "Plenipotentiary Commission of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Bolshevik Party for the Liquidation of Banditry in the Gubernia of Tambov". With the end of the Polish–Soviet War (in March 1921) and the defeat of General Wrangel in 1920, the Red Army could divert its regular troops into the area.[10] Alexander Schlichter, Chairman of the Tambov Gubernia Executive Committee, contacted Vladimir Lenin.[17] In January 1921 peasant revolts spread to Samara, Saratov, Tsaritsyn, Astrakhan and Siberia. In February, the peasant army reached its peak, numbering up to 70,000 and successfully defending the area against Bolshevik expeditions.

Suppression of the insurrectionEdit

In August 1920, the governorate of Tambov imposed martial law. The official propaganda of the Bolsheviks tried to discredit the insurgents as bandits led by the Social Revolutionaries. According to internal reports by the Soviet authorities, the leadership was well aware that it was a spontaneous uprising of the peasants without a key role being played by the Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries. The central organs of the Socialist Revolutionary Party actually condemned the uprising publicly and banned its party members from supporting the rebels. However, this appeal found little resonance among local party members. They also did not stop the Cheka from starting a wave of repression against members of the party in the Tambov region. Insurgents were executed and several villages burned down. However, this could not stop the uprising. [11]

In February 1921, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko was sent to Tambov as Chairman of a Plenipotentiary Commission to end the uprising. The commission reported directly to Lenin and was directly under his authority. Antonov-Ovseyenko targeted the civilian supporters of the rebels in the suppression of the insurgency. He ordered, with the prior approval of Lenin, a wave of deportations and hostage shootings. In May 1921 Mikhail Tukhachevsky was ordered by Lenin as military commander-in-chief to suppress the uprising in Tambov. Assigned to him were 100,000 soldiers including tanks and heavy artillery. [18] Red Army soldiers were assigned to his command, but they were in the minority. The majority of the deployed units consisted of special units of the Cheka. [15] In addition, as many members as possible of the communist youth organization [Komsomol] were assigned to its ranks because they were considered politically loyal. The Red Army used heavy artillery and armoured trains and also engaged in the summary execution of civilians. The rebels responded with the assassination attempts of Tukhachevsky and Ovseyenko, and the kidnapping and shooting of family members of Party members and members of the Red Army. [18] The fighting with the partisans took on [civil] warlike proportions, and the resources and organizational structures that the Soviet government offered against them were similar to those of a [front (large-scale) | front]] in the civil war. [19] [11] Zhukov described a battle with an insurgent union as follows: [20]

We got into a very fierce fight. The enemy saw that we were inferior in numbers and expected to overrun us. That was not easy. Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the squadron had four heavy machine guns stocked with ammunition and a 76mm gun. The squad maneuvered with MGs and guns and fired straight into the ranks of the enemy. We saw the battlefield covered with fallen enemies and retreated, struggling step by step.

Antonov-Ovsejenko reacted to the counter-terror of the partisans by intensifying his own. Civilians who were unwilling to give their names were shot without trial. If a weapon was found in a house, the oldest working member of the family was shot. The same was true for hiding insurgents - in this case, however, the family was additionally expropriated and deported. Under this was also a scheme to take children or orphans of rebels. In the case of the escape of a family from a village, they were expropriated, their house burned down and the movable property distributed among loyal peasants. In March 1921, the forced collection of grain in the insurgent regions was finally stopped. As a result, the willingness of the civilian population to support the rebels declined. In May 1921, Tukhachevsky, by systematic occupation of villages, succeeded in forcing the rebels more and more into the forest areas of the region around Tambov and to isolate them.

In June Tukhachevsky received permission from Antonov-Ovsejenko's commission to begin use of chemical weapons, by direct order from the leadership of Red Army and from the Communist Party.[21] Publications in local Communist newspapers openly glorified liquidations of "bandits" with the poison gas.[21][22] Tukhachevsky and Antonov-Ovseyenko signed an order to their troops, dated 12 June 1921, which stipulated:

"The forests where the bandits are hiding are to be cleared by the use of poison gas. This must be carefully calculated, so that the layer of gas penetrates the forests and kills everyone hiding there."[10]

Antonov's army was encircled and destroyed. Antonov himself escaped, but was shot only a year later by Soviet authorities. In early September 1921, only scattered groups of insurgents operated together, estimated at around 1,000 armed men. It took until the middle of 1922 until the province came to rest completely. [23]


The suppression of the uprising led to very heavy casualties among the population. It is estimated that around 50,000 people, including some 1,000 children, were put in concentration camps specifically for them in July 1921. [24] The inmates suffered severely from cholera and typhus epidemics. The death rate is estimated to be around 15-20% per month for the fall of 1921. [23] Exact figures on the victims of the uprising are not available. A total estimate amounts to about 100,000 detainees and about 15,000 on the part of the authorities execution people. As a result of the military operations against the rebels, around 6,000 of their fighters surrendered, they were either shot or deported. The deportees were transferred from the local camps to special camps in the northern regions of Russia after the suppression of the uprising. These camps were otherwise reserved for officers of the White Army and captured insurgents from Kronstadt. In these camps there was a particularly high mortality of prisoners compared to the rest of the camp system. [24] The devastation of the fighting and punitive measures, together with the Bolshevik agricultural policy, led to a famine in the areas of the insurgents. In addition to Tambov, large parts of Russia were affected in the following two years. [25]

Sennikov estimated the total losses among the population of Tambov region in 1920 to 1922 resulting from the war, executions, and imprisonment in concentration camps as approximately 240,000.[26]

But the uprising also made the Soviet leadership aware of its failure to deal with the peasants. As a result, the uprising is seen as one of the factors that prompted Lenin to initiate the New Economic Policy. The Russian sociologist and contemporary witness Pitirim Sorokin even concluded that the insurgents had forced the NEP by their actions. [27] The new policy relied more on a natural tax on actual production instead of on compulsory collection of agricultural products. [23] In the military field it is mentioned that the Soviet Army Commander Mikhail Frunze was impressed by the guerilleros' resistance to regular forces. He therefore began studying guerrilla tactics as a commander in the Red Army. This is regarded as a precondition of the Soviet Partisan's strategy in their World War II campaign against the Nazi invasion. [28]

Union of Working PeasantsEdit

The Union of Working Peasants (Russian: Союз трудового крестьянства) was a local political organization that emerged from the rebellion in 1920. The organization was led by the former Social-Revolutionary politician Aleksandr Antonov.[29] The goal of the organization was the 'overthrow of the government of Communist-Bolsheviks'.[30]

Recovery of documentsEdit

Some documents relating to the rebellion were found by the local ethnographer Boris Sennikov in 1982 while he was engaged in clearing sand from the altar of the Winter Church of the Kazan monastery.[31] During the 1920s, the monastery had been requisitioned for use as the local Cheka headquarters and the church had served as the archive of the Tambov Military Commissariat.

In 1933, the local government decided to burn documents that could compromise the Soviet regime. However, during the process, the fire grew out of control and had to be extinguished by water and, crucially, sand. All documents in the archive were believed to be destroyed; as the church altar was not used by the archive, the surviving documents, covered by a layer of sand, had never been found. In 1982, the local archive changed its address and the church became abandoned. When Sennikov found the documents, the Tambov department of KGB opened a criminal case against him. Later, the case was closed, but Sennikov lost his job.

In 2004, the publishing house Posev published the Sennikov archive as part of The Tambov Rebellion and the Liquidation of Russian Peasantry[21] along with documents relating to the Governorate Military Commissariat (including those dealing with Konstantin Mamontov's 1919 anti-Bolshevik raid, and those describing the Great Purge of the 1930s). The documents also included Red Army orders issued during the rebellion, correspondence, reports of the use of chemical weapons against the peasant rebels, and documents of the Union of the Working Peasants.

In popular cultureEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hosking, 1993: 78; Mayer, 2000: 392
  2. ^ Powell, 2007: 219; Werth, 1998: 131
  3. ^ a b Powell, 2007: 219; Werth, 1998: 132
  4. ^ a b c Werth, 1998: 139
  5. ^ Waller, 2012: 194
  6. ^ a b Orlando Figes, 1998: 811; Mayer, 2000: 392
  7. ^ Waller, 2012: 115; Werth, 1998: 132, 138
  8. ^ Sennikov, B.V. (2004). Tambov rebellion and liquidation of peasants in Russia. Moscow: Posev. In Russian. ISBN 5-85824-152-2
  9. ^ a b Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, Oxford University Press, New York, 1986, ISBN 0-19-504054-6.
  10. ^ a b c d e Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, 1999, hardcover, 858 pages, ISBN 0-674-07608-7.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Richard Pipes: Russia under the Bolshevik regime. New York 1993, p. 374 ff.
  12. ^ Nicolas Werth: "A state against its people. Violence, oppression and terror in the Soviet Union. In: Stéphane Courtois et al.: The Black Book of Communism. 4th edition, Munich 1998, p. 124.
  13. ^ Peter Scheibert: "Lenin in power - the Russian people in the revolution of 1918-1922", Weinheim 1984, pp. 389-393.
  14. ^ Landis, 2004.
  15. ^ a b c d Nicolas Werth: A state against its people. Violence, oppression and terror in the Soviet Union ; in: Stéphane Courtois et al.: The Black Book of Communism. 4th Edition, Munich 1998, p. 126.
  16. ^ Georgi K. Zhukov: Memories and Thoughts , Stuttgart 1969, p. 69 f.
  17. ^ Lenin to Kornev, 19 October, 1920. Accessed 21 June 2017.
  18. ^ a b Richard Pipes: "Russia under the Bolshevik regime." New York 1993, pp. 378-387.
  19. ^ Richard Pipes: 'Russia under the Bolshevik regime', New York 1993, p 378 ff.
  20. ^ Georgi K. Zhukov: Memories and Thoughts, Stuttgart 1969, p. 72nd
  21. ^ a b c Publisher: Posev, 2004, ISBN 5-85824-152-2 B.V.Sennikov. Tambov rebellion and liquidation of peasants in Russia, Full text in Russian
  22. ^ Orlando Figes: The Tragedy of a People. Berlin 1998, p. 811 ff; Richard Pipes: Russia under the Bolshevik regime. New York 1993, pp. 387-401.
  23. ^ a b c Nicolas Werth: "A state against its people. Violence, oppression and terror in the Soviet Union. In: Stéphane Courtois et al.: The Black Book of Communism. 4th edition, Munich 1998, p. 134.
  24. ^ a b Richard Pipes: "Russia under the Bolshevik regime." New York 1993, P. 404.
  25. ^ Nicolas Werth: A state against its people. Violence, oppression and terror in the Soviet Union ; in: Stéphane Courtois et al .: The Black Book of Communism , 4th edition, Munich 1998, p. 124 f; P. 137 f.
  26. ^ Sennikov, Boris V. (2004). Тамбовское восстание 1918-1921 гг. и раскрестьянивание России 1929-1933гг.: "Тамбовская Вандея" [The Tambov uprising of 1918 to 1921 and the de-peasantisation of Russia of 1929 to 1933: "The Tambov Vendee"]. Серия "Библиотечка россиеведения" (in Russian). Moscow: Посев. ISBN 5-85824-152-2. Retrieved 2015-11-12. Во всяком случае, по самым осторожным подсчетам, потери населения Тамбовской губернии в 1920-1922 гг. составили около 240 тыс. человек. [In any case, according to the most careful reckoning, the losses of the residents of the Tambov Governorate in the years 1920 to 1922 amounted to approximately 240 thousand persons.]
  27. ^ Peter Scheibert: Lenin in power - The Russian people in the revolution 1918-1922 , Weinheim, 1984, p. 393.
  28. ^ Richard Pipes: Russia under the Bolshevik regime , New York 1993, p. 388 ff.
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 10, 2011. Retrieved June 10, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  30. ^ Kowalski, Ronald I. The Russian Revolution: 1917-1921. Routledge sources in history. London: Routledge, 1997. p. 232.
  31. ^ An illustrated article about Tambov revolt from Gulag website (Russian)

Further readingEdit

  • Brovkin, Vladimir N. Behind the front lines of the civil war: political parties and social movements in Russia, 1918-1922 (Princeton University Press, 2015).
  • Hartgrove, J. Dane. "The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov Region 1920-1921." (1981): 432-433.
  • Landis, Erik-C. "Waiting for Makhno: Legitimacy and context in a Russian peasant war." Past and Present (2004): 199-236. online
  • Landis, Erik‐C. "Between village and Kremlin: Confronting state food procurement in civil war Tambov, 1919–20." Russian Review 63.1 (2004): 70-88.
  • Landis, Erik C. Bandits and Partisans: The Antonov Movement in the Russian Civil War. — University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008. — 381 p. — (Series in Russian and East European studies). — ISBN 9780822971177. — ISBN 0822971178.
  • Singleton, Seth. "The Tambov Revolt (1920-1921)," Slavic Review, vol. 25, no. 3 (Sept. 1966), pp. 497–512. In JSTOR

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 52°43′N 41°25′E / 52.717°N 41.417°E / 52.717; 41.417