Monday, March 11, 2019

The Astrakhan Precedent at 100 – When Bolsheviks First Shot Workers

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 11 – As Russians move through the centenary years of the Russian Civil War, they are focusing on many developments that the Soviet regime did not allow them to learn about and that the post-Soviet government would likely prefer that they forget given how some memories will challenge what today’s Kremlin would like people to think.

            Exactly 100 years ago yesterday and today, one of those horrific events occurred in Astrakhan where for the first time (but unfortunately not the last) the workers’ government as the Soviets identified themselves fired on workers not because they were against Soviet power but because they were demanding their rights as workers.

            As journalist Aleksandr Vasilyev points out, there is no other event in the city’s history which has been covered by so many lies.  But “there remain still some old Astrakhan residents and members of the intelligentsia ho remember and will not allow this to be forgotten” (

            On the morning of March 10, 1919, workers at the city’s shipbuilding plant, workers who had helped establish Soviet power in an almost bloodless fashion, came out into the streets to protest the new restrictions on their lives that were being imposed by party and military officials arriving from Moscow.

            These “’new’ people” cared not at all for the workers’ contribution and under orders from the chekist Atarbekov, they opened fire on the workers killing many of them, permanently alienating the workers there and set a precedent for the way the Soviets would treat workers in whose name they ruled.

            There was no revolt, no violence on the part of the workers in Astrakhan which might have justified such actions. There was only peaceful protest, but the Soviets could never acknowledge that reality and so spun fake stories about a supposed White Guard conspiracy against the regime – and they celebrated Atarbekov and his colleagues.

            “It is said that a war is over when the last soldier has been buried,” Vasiliyev says.  But no such step has been taken in Astrakhan for the victims of this war against the people there.

            Atarbekov, in contrast, has been treated better than he deserves. “This was a psychologically disturbed sadist,” the journalist continues.  “In peace time, he would have been an ordinary serial murderer and the police of the entire country would have sought to track him down and bring him to justice.”

            But in Bolshevik times, he was given a position and a gun and the power to act out his “sadistic” impulses.  “My grandfather,” Vasilyev says, “knew him well and at home called him ‘a pathological murderer,’” but he did so quietly.  After all to this day a street of Astrakhan bears his name.

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