Antonov Revolt

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Antonov Revolt


(in Russian, Antonovshchina), an anti-Soviet kulak and Socialist Revolutionary (SR) uprising in Tambov Province in 1920–21. It is named after the leader of the uprising, the SR member A. S. Antonov. The Antonov revolt revealed changes in the forms and methods of struggle used by international imperialism against Soviet power after the collapse of armed intervention in 1918–20. It was one of the most significant attempts to carry out the new tactic used by the class enemies against the dictatorship of the proletariat—the tactic of the “outbreak from within.” International imperialism and the internal counterrevolution expected to make use of the vacillations of petit bourgeois strata under the conditions of the Soviet republic’s transition to peaceful construction. Their aim was to counterpose the peasantry to the working class in order to overthrow the dictatorship of the proletariat. The counterrevolutionary forces tried to use the dissatisfaction of the peasantry with grain requisitioning.

Preparations were being made for the uprising by the SR Party as early as 1918. Its organizers saw as their task the overthrow of Soviet power, the creation of a government composed of representatives of parties and associations opposed to the Bolsheviks, the convoking of the Constituent Assembly, and the restoration of the bourgeois order. In May 1920 the Central Committee of the SR Party issued a directive to the illegal Tambov province committee of the SR’s on the organization of Unions of Working Peasantry, based on the kulaks, and on the conducting of widespread anti-Soviet agitation. The Unions of Working Peasantry established in Tambov, Borisoglebsk, and other districts became points of support for the uprising. The leader of the uprising, A. S. Antonov, had participated in SR expropriations in 1905–07 and had spent eight years in penal exile. In 1917–18 he was the head of the district militia in Kirsanov. He participated in a counterrevolutionary plot, and in 1918 he went into hiding to avoid arrest and began to set up an outlaw band.

Tambov Province became a breeding ground for insurrection for a number of reasons. This typically agricultural province, with its primarily peasant and petit bourgeois population and its insignificant stratum of industrial proletariat, had for many years been a stronghold of the SR Party. The relative weight of the kulak and well-to-do strata in the village was very great. The kulaks took over many volost (small rural district) soviets and village soviets. The kulak-SR elements purposely fanned the dissatisfaction of the peasantry with the grain requisitioning system, with the lack of manufactured goods, with instances in which revolutionary legality was violated in certain cases by some grain-requisitioning agents, and so forth. As a result of mobilizations for the front, the province organization of the RCP (Bolshevik) was weakened and was not able to repel the intrigues of the class enemy effectively. The uprising began in August 1920 in the village of Kamenka in Kirsanov volost and soon spread to the districts of Tambov, Kirsanov, Borisoglebsk, Morshansk, and Koz-lov. In order to win the wavering and uncertain strata of the working peasantry to their side, the insurgents raised such slogans as “Down With Grain Requisitioning” and “Long Live Free Trade.” By means of demagogy, deception, provocation, and force, the SR’s managed to draw a section of the working peasantry into their outlaw bands. In October 1920 some 15,000 to 20,000 persons participated in the uprising, of which 2,500 to 3,000 had firearms. By January 1921 the number of insurgents had risen to 50,000. Under the command of the so-called General Staff for Operations, the insurgents had two armies consisting of 21 regiments and separate brigades. They made use of the tactics and methods of partisan warfare, resorting to ambushes and surprise attacks. Having cut the southeast railroad line, they interrupted the shipping of grain to the central regions of the country, plundered some 60 state farms, and caused extensive material damage to the province. More than 2,000 party and Soviet workers were killed by them.

The Central Committee of the RCP (Bolshevik), the Sov-narkom (Council of People’s Commissars), and V. I. Lenin personally adopted the necessary measures for the most rapid possible liquidation of the Antonov revolt. In August 1920 a state of siege was declared in Tambov Province. In October 1920, V. I. Lenin assigned F. E. Dzerzhinskii, E. M. Sklian-skii, and V. S. Kornev, commander of the internal security troops, to hasten the defeat of the Antonov revolt. In January 1921 a meeting of the Organization Bureau of the Central Committee of the Party attended by Dzerzhinskii, Commander-in-Chief S. S. Kamenev, Kornev, and leaders of Tambov Province discussed the course of the struggle against Antonov’s movement. A plenipotentiary commission of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK) headed by V. A. Antonov-Ovseenko was sent to Tambov Province. In February 1921 the Central Committee of the RCP (Bolshevik) and the Council for Labor and Defense adopted a number of decrees aimed at the complete liquidation of the Antonov revolt. On orders from Lenin, the imposition of grain requisitioning in Tambov Province was suspended for a fixed term. Lenin’s interview with a delegation of peasants from Tambov Province had great significance. The Central Committee of the RCP (Bolshevik) mobilized 300 Communists from Moscow, Petrograd, and Tula to aid the provincial party organization. The VTsIK commission together with the province party organization developed a widespread agitational propaganda campaign and an organizational campaign directed toward isolating the kulak-SR elements. In January and February 1921 the number of Red Army troops in Tambov Province was greatly increased (32,500 infantry and about 8,000 cavalry, with 463 machine guns and 63 artillery pieces). The Central Committee and the Soviet government in May 1921 sent M. N. Tukhachevskii, I. P. Uborevich, N. E. Kakurin, L. F. Fed’ko, I. V. Tiulenev.G. I. Kotovskii, and others to combat the Antonov revolt, with orders to finish off the bandits within a month. With the suspension of grain requisitioning and the introduction of the New Economic Policy, the working peasantry began to join in the fight against Antonov. This had a decisive importance in liquidating the Antonov revolt. By June 1921 the main forces of the Antonov rebels were almost completely annihilated. The decisive battles were conducted by a military group commanded by Uborevich. From May 28 to July 26, 1921, the rebels lost 11,000 dead and wounded. Counting deserters seized during round-up operations and rebels who gave themselves up, the number of Antonov’s people was reduced by nearly 37,000. By August 1921 the uprising had been suppressed, and Antonov himself was killed in June 1922.


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Trifonov, I. Ia. Klassy i klassovaia bor’ba v SSSR v nachale nepa (1921–1923 gg.). Chapter 1: “Bor’ba s vooruzhennoi kulatskoi kontrrevoliutsiei.” [Leningrad,] 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.