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1918-1919 revolution in Lithuania

Proletarian revolution in Lithuania 1918-1919

The Lithuanian people were deprived of statehood and national independence for a long time. After the signing of the Union of Lublin in 1569, it fell under the yoke of Polish feudal lords, and from 1795, i.e. after the III section of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth - Russian tsarism. In 1915, during the First World War, Lithuania was occupied by the troops of the Kaiser’s Germany and turned, as V. Mickevičius-Kapsukas wrote, “into a real prison, vigilantly guarded by the German gendarme.” Representatives of German imperialism openly declared their desire to turn Lithuania into a colony of the German Reich forever.

All this could not but arouse hatred of the working people of Lithuania towards the conquerors. The resistance of the Lithuanian people to the Kaiser's occupation intensified even more after the workers and peasants in Russia overthrew the Tsar in February 1917; the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution and the destruction of national oppression in Russia had a huge impact on the further strengthening of the national liberation struggle in Lithuania.

In this situation, the Kaiser’s government found a way to resolve the issue of Lithuania’s annexation to Germany: this was to happen by decision of the Lithuanian bourgeois statesmen who collaborated with the German occupation authorities, based on the principles of the right of nations to self-determination, proclaimed by the October Revolution.

Thus, on December 11, 1917, the bourgeois Lithuanian Tariba (council), formed on the initiative of the German occupation authorities even before the October Revolution and nicknamed the “Kaiser’s Tariba” by the Lithuanian people, adopted a declaration on the establishment of eternal ties between Lithuania and the German Empire on the basis of a military convention, transport convention, customs and monetary community. The declaration was signed by the chairman of the tariba A. Smetona, priest Mironas and all members of the tariba. This decision aggravated the political situation in Lithuania and caused indignation among Lithuanians living in Russia, Latvia and America.

Under these conditions, Tariba was forced to adopt an act in which there was no mention of conventions and eternal ties with Germany. But this conciliatory body, dependent on the occupiers, could act only with their permission. Former member of the Lithuanian Tariba P. Klimas wrote about this in his memoirs: “Only bypassing, by contacting the highest spheres in Berlin (the government and the Reichstag), could one hope for support or at least leniency ... for the unauthorized declaration of independence, which would calm the region."

Thus, with the permission of Berlin, on February 16, 1918, the Lithuanian Tarib adopted a new decision, which no longer said anything about an eternal union with Germany and which was later glorified by Lithuanian bourgeois nationalists as an act of declaring the independence of Lithuania.

However, in reality, the act of February 16 did not become such a document. The situation in Lithuania continued to remain the same. The Lithuanian people still bore the burden of the Kaiser's occupation. And on February 28, 1918, the Presidium of the Lithuanian Tariba, in a letter to the German Reich Chancellor Hertling, assured that the basis of relations between Lithuania and Germany would not be the act of February 16, but the declaration of the Tariba of December 11, 1917. On this basis, the German Kaiser March 23, 1918 g. recognized the imaginary independence of Lithuania. Smetona’s like-minded person, the major Lithuanian banker Martynas Ichas, later spoke quite openly about the true price of this independence. In No. 12 of the magazine “Vairas” for 1934, he wrote: “Having recognized the independence of Lithuania, the Germans bound us with conventions: on customs duties, military leadership and foreign policy. Under such conditions, of course, Lithuania would become part of the German Empire.”

Soon, the Lithuanian Tariba took the next step towards the final subordination of Lithuania to Germany: in the summer of 1918, fulfilling the will of the Kaiser’s occupiers, it decided to introduce a monarchy in Lithuania, and to invite a relative of the German Kaiser, Wilhelm Urach, to the Lithuanian throne under the name of Coral Mindaugas II.

In the current situation, it became absolutely clear to the working masses of Lithuania that only a revolutionary struggle against the German colonialists and their accomplice - the Lithuanian Tarib, only a struggle for the power of workers and peasants could guarantee freedom and independence for the Lithuanian people.

In the autumn of 1918, a revolutionary situation arose in Lithuania. The workers no longer wanted to live in the old way: they were determined to follow the example of the Russian proletariat, which carried out the Great October Socialist Revolution.

In the context of the rise of the revolutionary movement, on October 1-3, 1918, the first congress of representatives of communist organizations in Lithuania was held illegally in Vilnius. The congress discussed the tasks of establishing the revolutionary power of workers and peasants in Lithuania, adopted the party charter and elected the governing party body - the Central Committee. P. Eidukevicius was elected its chairman, R. Pilar was elected secretary.

The historical significance of the congress lies in the fact that it united disparate party organizations and created the Communist Party of Lithuania. Until this moment, the people's liberation movement in the region was spontaneous. Now it has acquired organizational forms, clear, publicly accessible, purposeful content.

Meanwhile, in November 1918, Germany was defeated in the war. A bourgeois-democratic revolution broke out in the country, and the Kaiser was overthrown. The imperialist bourgeoisie came to power.

The occupation authorities were forced to allow the Lithuanian Tariba to form a “cabinet of ministers” on November 11, 1918, but it, like the bourgeois Lithuanian Tariba, did not have real power in the region and acted in concert with the German occupiers, who continued to remain complete masters in Lithuania.

On the same day, with the Compiegne Armistice Act, the United States and the Entente obliged Germany to leave its troops in the Baltic states, including Lithuania, “to maintain order,” i.e. to suppress the revolutionary movement. Imperialist Germany accepted these obligations, especially since it did not abandon its aggressive plans in relation to the Baltic states.

All this forced the Communist Party of Lithuania to take urgent measures to protect the revolutionary and national interests of the Lithuanian people.

Aldona Skirutite. Echo of the revolution. From the series Lithuanian poets about the revolution Linocut

Aldona Skirutite. Echo of the revolution. From the series “Lithuanian poets about the revolution”. Linocut

A decision was made on the immediate formation of the Provisional Revolutionary Workers' and Peasants' Government of Lithuania, which would put forward a revolutionary program of action, wage an energetic struggle against the bourgeois Lithuanian tariff and its “Cabinet of Ministers” and, by its very existence, would speak of a truly independent Lithuanian workers' and peasants' state.

True, at this time elections to the Soviets of Workers' Deputies were already being held. However, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania believed that it was impossible to wait until councils were created everywhere and their congress took place, which would elect a government, since any delay in the creation of this government provided an opportunity for the Lithuanian bourgeoisie to strengthen its position.

At an illegal meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania, which took place on December 8, 1918 in the workers' club in Vilnius, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Lithuania was formed. Taking into account the multinational composition of the population of Vilnius and the whole of Lithuania, the government included representatives of different nationalities: Vincas Mickevičius-Kapsukas (Chairman and People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs), Zigmas Angaretis, Konstantin Kernovich, Kazimir Cikhovsky, Pranas Svotelis-Proletaras, Alexandras Jakševičius and Aizik Weinstein- Branovsky. Somewhat later, Semyon Dimanshtein was included in the government.

The Lithuanian provisional revolutionary government acted under the leadership of the Communist Party, in defense of the national and social interests of the Lithuanian people, therefore it received widespread support from the Lithuanian workers and working peasantry.

The creation of the Lithuanian Provisional Workers' and Peasants' Government marked the beginning of the socialist revolution in the region. Under the leadership of the Communist Party, political strikes and demonstrations became more frequent in Vilnius, Kaunas, Siauliai, Panevezys and other cities; demands were made to expel the German occupiers and dissolve the bourgeois Lithuanian Tariba and its “cabinet of ministers.”

In Vilnius, the occupying German troops, also imbued with revolutionary sentiments, refused to perform police functions; the Lithuanian bourgeoisie and its government did not have their own armed forces. Thus, the counter-revolution in Vilnius at that moment was powerless.

At the meeting of the Council of Workers' Deputies, which took place on December 15, 1918 in the hall of the current Philharmonic Society, more than 200 delegates elected by workers and employees of Vilnius factories and factories were present. The meeting was held legally. The Council of Workers' Deputies announced that it was taking all power in Vilnius into its own hands.

Soon, Soviet power was proclaimed in Kaunas, Siauliai, Panevėžys, Rokiškis, Ukmerge, Utena, Joniškėlis, Kursenai, Telšiai, Mazeikiai, Skuodas, Kazlu-Ruda, Pilvishkiai, Ludwinava, Kalvarija, etc. In many regions of Lithuania, Soviet power was proclaimed and acted legally.

On December 16, 1918, a massive (20,000 workers participated) revolutionary demonstration and general strike were held in Vilnius. This was an event unprecedented in Vilnius since October 1905. The demonstration was directed against the German occupiers and their accomplices - the Lithuanian bourgeoisie. The demonstrators carried slogans: “All power to the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies!”, “Long live the socialist revolution!”

In this regard, the Lithuanian Provisional Revolutionary Workers' and Peasants' Government published a document of historical significance - the Manifesto, in which it announced the overthrow of the power of the German military occupation and local bourgeois groups and its transfer into the hands of the Soviets of Deputies of workers, landless and land-poor peasants.

The government of Soviet Russia, putting into practice the principle of the right of nations to self-determination, on December 22, 1918, adopted a decree signed by V.I. Lenin recognizing the independence of Soviet Lithuania and obliged all military and civilian bodies of Soviet Russia to provide all possible assistance to the government of Soviet Lithuania.

This is how the independent Lithuanian Soviet Republic was formed. The Lithuanian people won national independence, recreated their statehood, giving it a new form and content. History has confirmed that not February 16, 1918, but December 16 became the day of the revival of Lithuanian statehood. It was not the Lithuanian bourgeoisie and its nationalist leaders, but the proletarian revolution that ended the rule of the German occupiers in Lithuania and laid the foundations of Lithuanian statehood. It was not the bourgeois Lithuanian tariff, but the working people of Lithuania under the leadership of the Communist Party who were the creators of the Lithuanian state.

History also shows that Soviet power was not brought to Lithuania by the Red Army of Soviet Russia. Pressed out by German troops from Soviet soil, the Red Army of Soviet Russia and the Lithuanian units of the Red Army formed on the territory of Soviet Russia entered Lithuania only at the end of 1918 and only on January 5, 1919 reached Vilnius. Soviet power was also created in those areas of Lithuania where there was no Red Army at all. Soviet power was formed in Lithuania when German occupation forces were still present here.

But, of course, the arrival of the Red Army in Lithuania was of great importance. The German occupation forces began to retreat. On December 31, 1918 they left Vilnius. The bourgeois Lithuanian Tariba and its “cabinet of ministers” also fled from Vilnius and settled in Kaunas.

The presence of units of the Red Army linked the activities of counter-revolutionary elements, contributed to the development of the revolutionary initiative of the working people of Lithuania, and created favorable conditions for the free implementation of socialist transformations. By February 1919, Soviet power had strengthened in most of the territory of Lithuania: in the northern, eastern and southeastern counties.

The Soviet government in Lithuania did a tremendous job in a short period of time. Carrying out the program put forward in the Manifesto, she nationalized plants, factories, banks and wholesale warehouses, land, water, forests, etc., confiscated the lands of landowners, churches and monasteries, introduced an eight-hour working day and a fixed minimum wage everywhere, and adopted serious measures to eliminate unemployment. Along with this, she ensured national equality of workers of various nationalities, began organizing a system of public education, founded a number of cultural institutions, took cultural values ​​under state protection so that they became available to the masses, adopted a resolution on the restoration of Vilnius University and, having received material support from Soviet Russia , took a number of measures to develop the national economy, depleted by the German occupation.

However, Soviet power in Lithuania lasted only a few months. Already in February 1919, an armed intervention by foreign imperialism was organized against Soviet Lithuania. Incited by the Entente countries and the United States, the armed forces of bourgeois Poland and Germany invaded Soviet Lithuania together with Lithuanian bourgeois armed units formed by mobilization in the southwestern regions of Lithuania.

The Communist Party of Lithuania and the Soviet government took decisive measures in defense of the revolutionary gains. To this end, on February 27, 1919, Soviet Lithuania united with Soviet Belarus into a single Lithuanian-Belarusian Soviet Republic, since Soviet Belarus was attacked by bourgeois Poland. Vincas Kapsukas was elected Chairman of the Government of the Lithuanian-Belarusian Soviet Republic - the Council of People's Commissars - and People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs. The united republic included the former Vilnius, Kaunas, Minsk provinces, part of Suwalki and Grodno. Vilnius was declared its capital.

The battles with the interventionists and armed units of the local counter-revolution on the territory of Lithuania were fought by the Lithuanian Division, the 2nd Latvian (International) Division of the Red Army and the first national formations of the Lithuanian Red Army - the 5th Vilnius Rifle Regiment and the Samogitian Regiment.

During fierce battles, new units of the Red Army and detachments of Red Guards were formed. In response to the call of the Communist Party, many workers and peasants voluntarily joined the ranks of the defenders of the revolution. The Communist Party of Lithuania rallied about 5,000 Lithuanians into the armed forces. Zigmas Angaretis later wrote: “... We had the opportunity to gather 20-30 thousand volunteers from local workers and peasants.” But this was not possible due to the lack of weapons, ammunition, and uniforms. Units of the Red Army heroically fought for Soviet power in Lithuania. But the outcome of the struggle was decided by the balance of forces. The armed forces of the counter-revolution, a significant part of which were Polish and German interventionists, were almost five times larger than the troops of the defenders of the revolution, and were also better armed. Soviet Russia provided great assistance to the liberation movement of the working people of Lithuania. But in the spring of 1919, it no longer had such capabilities, since the main forces of the country were directed against Kolchak, Yudenich and Denikin.

In the spring and summer of 1919, Soviet power in Lithuania was defeated. Foreign interventionists and local counter-revolution brutally dealt with Lithuanian revolutionaries and defenders of Soviet power.

With the suppression of Soviet power, the working people of Lithuania lost all the gains of the revolution, social freedoms and Soviet statehood. Lithuania also lost Vilnius and the southeastern regions, which were captured by bourgeois Poland. The dictatorship of the Lithuanian bourgeoisie was established in the rest of the territory of Lithuania. The statehood won by the revolution acquired a bourgeois character. As Z. Angaretis wrote, the bourgeois Lithuanian state was created not in 1918, but “only in 1919 on the ruins of Soviet Lithuania.”

The bourgeois Lithuanian state became dependent on the imperialist countries of the West both economically and politically. The question of Lithuanian statehood itself was even raised. But the working people of Lithuania remained faithful to the idea of ​​Soviet power, and in 1940, with the victory of the socialist revolution in Lithuania, it was restored.

Kostas Navickas Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor
Magazine "Lithuania Today" No. 1(30) 1988
Vilnius "Mintis"


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