Sunday, September 16, 2018

The ideology of the Black Baron

This is a somewhat strange item. It's an excerpt from a 1959 book, “Russian Thought and Politics”, edited by Hugh McLean et al. Why this particular chapter is sold separately as a pamphlet, I honestly don't know. Perhaps it was excerpted from the major work by some college teacher for the benefit of his students? The article, written by Donald W Treadgold, is rather short and deals with Baron Peter von Wrangel, who was the last commander of the counter-revolutionary White Guards during the Russian Civil War. General Wrangel held Crimea in 1920, but was forced to evacuate Russian territory after being denied aid from the Western powers, which at this point considered the White movement a lost cause.

What makes Wrangel peculiar is that he, alone among White leaders, promised to carry out a radical redistribution of land in order to win over the Russian peasants to the White cause. He also put forward a moderately democratic program which would include the convening of some kind of parliament, and professed neutrality between monarchy and republic. Rather than promoting Greater Russian chauvinism, Wrangel promised autonomy for non-Russian nationalities. During his stay at Crimea, Wrangel actually attempted to implement the agrarian reforms with the aid of advisors who had previously worked for Peter Stolypin, the Czar's “reformist” prime minister before World War I.

It's interesting to note that Wrangel adopted certain pseudo-leftist traits, calling the institutions responsible for redistributing the land “soviets” and raising the old Populist slogan “Land and Liberty”. He sent an envoy to Ukrainian anarchist insurgent Nestor Makhno, proposing an alliance, but the anarchist caudillo responded as he usually did…by executing the messenger! Wrangel wasn't the only right-wing anti-Bolshevik who attempted to co-opt Bolshevik slogans. Unless I'm mistaken, the Cadet leader Miliukov called for “soviets without Bolsheviks” and many later anti-Communist movements claimed to be, in some sense, “socialist”.

We don't know if Wrangel's program would have succeeded. In some countries, such as Czechoslovakia and Estonia, agrarian reforms were carried out by “bourgeois” democratic governments. In Taiwan, the right-wing dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek carried out an agrarian reform. But would Wrangel have been able to do so in Russia, even assuming that he was serious about it? Since the White Guards in general were aristocratic and presumably wanted to keep the best land for themselves and their huge estates, I find that somewhat difficult to believe.

Treadgold is “to the right of Genghis Khan” since he calls White Guard leaders Kornilov, Kolchak and Denikin “moderates”. For some reason, he transliterates Russian names in a non-English manner. Thus, Kerensky is called Kerenskij! His article isn't as interesting as I expected, but perhaps you can't say that much about Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel's “leftist policy from rightist hands”, since the Black Baron was forced to leave Crimea after only eight months…

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