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The Glasgow Soviet
Britain in the early days of 1919 was a sullen, depressed and angry place. The end of the Great War the previous November had caused a momentary surge of national euphoria but the stark realisation of the horror of war and the deaths of nearly a million British soldiers, sailors and airmen as well as civilian losses in German air raids and naval attacks, had led many to question the reasons for the conflict.
Unprecedented Government control over society and the economy and privation caused by German submarine activity in the Atlantic and the need to feed Britain’s vastly inflated armed forces had also caused tensions to develop. The news of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in November 1917 and the overthrow of the autarchic dynasties of Central and Eastern Europe in the last days of the war had further inflamed the desire for change especially among the large numbers of the working class.
There had been isolated and sporadic periods of civil unrest during the conflict and nowhere more than Glasgow, which had seen a rent strike in 1915 and the growth of a strong and vociferous anti-war movement, which had violently opposed the introduction of conscription in 1916.
For many in the vast working-class estates of Clydeside and the industrial central lowlands, the war was not fought for “their” benefit but for the preservation of the privilege of the rich. It had been the working class who had seen their sons shipped to Flanders and slaughtered.
The hope was that peace would bring social and political change but it soon became clear that the returning army would not face a “land fit for heroes”. In early 1919, the shipbuilding unions agreed a reduction in the working week from 57 to 47 hours but this was angrily repudiated on Clydeside where unions called for a 40 hour working week and other improvements in pay and conditions.
Unlike in other areas, the workers on Clydeside had organised themselves into the Clyde Workers Committee (CWC). The demand for a 40-hour week had distinct political overtones. A shorter working week would create jobs for discharged ex-servicemen as well as maintaining strong employment throughout the city and region, which would also strengthen union power against the employers.
The CWC was able to mobilise support across Glasgow and places like Airdrie and Motherwell in support of the shipbuilding workers and was far more effective and powerful than the organised unions.
On 26th January 1919, the Clydeside shipyard workers went on strike and within three days, 36,000 mineworkers joined the 40,000 in the shipyards, as did thousands in other industries, paralysing the city and much of the surrounding area.
On January 29th, the Lord Provost agreed to meet a deputation from the CWC at Glasgow City Hall. At this meeting, the CWC leaders urged the Lord Provost to force the employers to concede the demand for a 40-hour week. The Lord Provost could not or would not give a definite answer and asked the CWC to return in forty-eight hours.
On January 31st 1919, the CWC leaders were meeting the Lord Provost when the meeting was interrupted by an uproar from outside. The Police had launched an unprovoked attack on the demonstrating works and a full-scale riot erupted. The CWC leaders left the City Hall by a rear entrance just as the Police closed in. The centre of Glasgow became a battleground but while the Police had the initial advantage, the strikers fought back and by sheer weight of numbers drove the Police out of the centre of the city.
Back in the City Hall, the CWC leaders led a deputation, which arrested the Lord Provost and his staff. In the hours that followed, the more moderate elements on the CWC lost power to revolutionary elements such as John MacLean, Peter Marshall and Arthur McManus. In the early hours of February 1st, the CWC formed a “Workers Council” to run the city. The Glasgow Soviet was born.
Initially, the writ of the Workers Council ran little further than the City Hall but as the day moved on, more of the city pledged support for what was already becoming known as the Glasgow Soviet. A critical element of support came from a battalion of soldiers stationed at Maryhill, which executed its own officers and formed a “Red Guard” to defend the Soviet.
In London, the news of the events in Glasgow had been received with fear and disbelief. The Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, contacted Home Secretary George Cave who immediately agreed that this “revolution”, as he called it, had to be suppressed “with the full ferocity of the law”. However, it soon became clear that the Glasgow Police force had either melted away or joined the Soviet along with a number of soldiers and sailors.
Throughout the war, a force of some 10,000 soldiers had been retained in England specifically to deal with any internal civil unrest or disaster. This force was ordered to Glasgow along with tanks. The force was made up of wholly English troops, as Cave and Lloyd George believed that Scottish forces would not be reliable. Indeed, news of the Glasgow Soviet had led to sporadic mutinies and unrest in other Scottish regiments.
The Army faced disruption as it approached Glasgow with roadblocks in place and the rail system disrupted. Soldiers were met with jeers and stones in Airdrie and Motherwell and, worryingly for the Government, some desertions were reported.
On February 4th, the army moved into Glasgow and met heavy resistance from soldiers and workers. The fighting soon became disorganised as the outgunned strikers used their knowledge of the city and its streets to slow up the advance of the Army. Tanks were attacked and put out of action and casualties were high on both sides. The Army was forced to shell the centre of the city including the railway station, post office and city hall. Slowly, the Army fought its way into the city centre but had to contest every yard.
For the Soviet leaders, the military response had come as no surprise and they had hurriedly planned a resistance based on the shipyards and the streets. They were outgunned despite the Scottish battalion of around 900 men, which fought bravely to slow up the advance of the Army.
By the early hours of February 7th, the Army was in the City Centre. The fighting was ferocious in the ruins of the key buildings. Some of the Soviet leaders opted for flight but MacLean and McManus stayed in the City Hall until the end. Just after dawn, it was obvious English troops had failed to retake the city. The Communists soon re-occupied the City Hall after a fierce battle. The fighting continued in the shipyards for a further two days during which most of the dockyard installations were sabotaged or destroyed in the fighting.
George Cave withdrew his troops . All over the Glasgow Soviet people partied in the streets. The Army withdrew to Edinburgh and occupied the city. Hundreds of captured troops were put on trial for treason. strikers still stands in the courtyard
The army lost over 300 dead in the fight to recapture Glasgow; civilian losses were later estimated at over a thousand. The Soviet casualties were higher still with nearly 200 dead or injured. Much of the city centre was in ruins and it would take many months to repair the damage.
Persia, occupied by the Russians and British during the Great War, the nation lacked the ability to make the British leave at the war’s end. The shah was impotent as tribal chieftains dominated much of the countryside, while the country seethed with rebellion. In 1919 the British had forced Persia to sign the Anglo-Persian Treaty, effectively making Persia a British protectorate. Unsurprisingly, much of the country was unhappy about this.
In such troubled times, it is no surprise that a revolutionary movement arose to overthrow the Shah. Known as the Jangalis, under their leader Kuchak Khan they sought to carry out land reform, expel the British, and overthrow the Shah. Based in the northern province of Gilan, they proved to be a thorn in the side of the British, Persians, and Whites. In May of 1920, he appealed to the Soviets for assistance and declared the formation of the “Soviet Republic of Gilan”. Since Soviet troops had already occupied the Persian port of Enzeli , it was a tempting offer. Stalin and Kirov urged its recognition as a blow against the British, while Trotsky remained skeptical. Ultimately, Lenin decided to not recognize the republic, but in August of 1920 he sanctioned military assistance. To give it the veneer of legality, the troops and equipment are to come from the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic, so that Moscow could claim that it was not responsible.
In January of 1921 the Persian Communist Party and Kuchik Khan, tempted by Soviet aid, agrees to form a united front in September. The new government vows to adopt the tactics of “a united anti-imperialist front”, and to avoid “revolutionary adventurism”. In late September, it marches on Tehran. The date of the march on Tehran matters significantly. Persia really only had three modern forces at this point. The first was the South Persia Rifles, officered by the British and based in, umm, southern Persia. The second was the Swedish officered gendarmie. The third was the Persian Cossack brigade, officered by Russians. The Cossack Brigade, based in Tehran, was especially worrisome, since many of its officers were suspected of having pro-Bolshevik sympathies. In OTL the man who would become Reza Shah, the founder of the Pahlavi Dynasty took over the brigade in October and purged the force of its Russian officers, so that when Kuchik and his Soviet allies marched on Tehran in the June of 1921 they were defeated. The flag of the Persian Soviet Socialist Republic flies over the city on October 5, 1920.
The Elbe republics collapse
The Elbe republic which had now been established held much of eastern Germany. Its Fascist leaders decided that the time had come to secure East Prussia and make a treaty with the entente. What they really should have been focusing on was their eastern border. In the two months of its existence the Freikorps who were its main army had got in constant border gunfights with Bolshevik troops. Lenin is angered at this and orders the German irregulars to stand down and move out of all territory occupied - they refuse. The next day the Soviets joined the German civil war.
Franz Ritter von Epp - ruler of the Elbe republic had overestimated the effectiveness of his army and misjudged the morale of the Communists. At the battle of the Elbe, the desperate Freikorp tried to halt Tukhachevskys army from crossing the Elbe. Their effort was in vain as with total air control the Soviet Union crossed the Elbe and quickly marched on to Spartacist controlled Berlin. Tukhachevsky and Stalin whose armies were also fighting the Elbe argued about the best strategy. Stalin wanted to march into Berlin and take the glory while Tukhachevsky wanted to wrap up the rest of the Elbe republics dwindling forces.
In the end they reached a compromise. Tukhachevsky would take his forces to the Elbe to knock out their government at Gera while Stalin would meet up with the Communists in Berlin. As Tukhachevsky marched south he encountered no less than four counterattacks. All of these counterattacks were too weak to make any significant progress. Meanwhile, Stalin met nearly no resistance as the Elbe republic collapsed. Some blackshirts held out in towns outside the city but they were quickly smashed. Stalin walked into Berlin declaring famously "Joseph Stalin has brought liberation!". The Soviet troops paraded down the streets as Stalin was hailed as the hero. Meanwhile the citizens of Gera ran and screamed as the Elbe troops engaged the Soviets in a last stand. After a day, though, all effective resistance had collapsed and the former territories of the Elbe came under the command of the Spartacists, while the Soviets reorganized for their next advance, the heart of Germany.
1500 hours Berlin time, Brauns Inn "Why the hell are we hanging around for this stupid victory party ,the germans could counterattack any moment." Tukhachevsky took an frustrated gulp of his ale."I wouldn't worry Germany is in Chaos the army are still trying to enforce law. Although I'm annoyed at his constant celebrations when theres a war on , but with Poland wrapped up ,unrest in France,revolution in Britain and Germany in outright anarchy I think we deserve a celebration." Trotsky replied calmly."I just feel annoyed that while I knocked out the Elbes,Stalin strode around Berlin declaring himself the savior,I'M THE SAVIOUR!" Tukhachevsky was obviously a lot more angry than he pretended he was,"Hes out there no celebrating like hes some sort of He-". From a few blocks away gunshots were heard along with screams,Trotsky and Tukhachevsky quickly shuffled to Soviet Headquarters.