January 11 in Russian history


About ten years ago I began working as a service engineer for the well-known American company NCR. During the interview my new boss told me about the company and said: "The director of the Russian branch is Konstantin Slashchev. The last name is also the name of the famous general of the White guard." "Yes," I replied absent-mindedly, "Yakov Alexandrovich." The boss, probably, didn't expect me to remember this name, but I did. He was never really famous, though.

On 11 January 1929 Yakov Alexandrovich Slashchov was killed in Moscow by a Trotskyist named Kolenberg.

He was born on 10 January 1886 (29 December 1885 Old Style) in St.Petersburg and 1905 became an army officer in the Finland regiment of the Russian Imperial Guard (Leib-Guard). He was not sent to the Russo-Japanese war and was disappointed by this fact. Instead, he entered the Academy of the General Staff and graduated in 1911. In the Academy he was especially interested in rather unusual operations: a mix of guerilla and what we now know as spetsnaz — active night operations of small specially trained groups. Since the very first days of the WWI he fought on the frontline, was wounded five times, contused twice and awarded the order of St.George. In December 1917, he joined the Volunteer Army (the core of the future White Guard). His guerilla style operations were very useful during the fights against the bolsheviks in Northern Caucasus and along Kuban river. In 1918, his regiments drove the Red Army away from Odessa and Nikolayev, giving a chance to the White Guard to liberate half of Ukraine. In May 1919 he was promoted to general-major.

In 1919 the Red Army stroke back and the White Guard was forced to retreat to Crimea. On 27 December 1919 Slashchov's corps took their stand on the Perekop isthmus, which connected Crimea and mainland Russia and prevented the occupation of Crimea by the Red Army. Slashchov's unusual tactics almost saved Crimea and since then he became known as Slashchov-Krymsky (Slashchov of Crimea). However, the peninsula was overcrowded with demoralized and despaired refugees who were sometimes even more dangerous than the bolsheviks. They intrigued, demanded, committed crimes, bribed and took bribes and did their best to avoid the hardships of the army life. Slashchov was responsible for he defense of Crimea and his first task was the discipline.

Slashchov issued orders like this one: "The wine stores are to be sealed. The card games are strictly prohibited on the whole territory of Crimea. The owners of gambling dens will be punished as the accomplices of bolsheviks. Beware now, and if you don't listen, don't blame me for your untimely death." This was when he earned his nickname Slashchov the Hanger. Many years later, he became the prototype of general Khludov in the novel Flight (Beg in Russian) by M.Bulgakov — the brave but demoralized general who knew only one tool to restore discipline, the death penalty. Slashchov's reputation is still defined by this nickname. He sentenced hundreds of people to death. However, the largest part of his victims were not bolsheviks or their spies and saboteurs, but the officers of the White Guard accused of robbery, marauding, desertion or cowardice. So, in Simpheropol he ordered to hang three officers who robbed a Jewish jeweller. He executed soldiers who stole geese from the farms. Nevertheless, his courage, even audacity, and respect towards those who, in his opinion, deserved this respect — brave soldiers and officers — gave him another nickname. The soldiers called him "general Yasha" (diminutive of Yakov) and told legends of his inclination to risky adventures.

Anton Ivanovich Denikin, the commander of the White Guard, didn't like Slashchov, but understood that Crimea depends on Slashchov. When Denikin had to leave his position, he was replaced by baron Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel. The relationship between Slashchov and Wrangel were even worse. Wrangel, like Denikin, understood perfectly the importance of Slashchov and the dangers of quarrels between the leaders of the White Guard. However, the personality of Slashchov made this task very difficult. Wrangel wrote later in his memoirs:

Being a good officer, general Slashchov, even with his average army, coped with his tasks very well. With a handful of people, amid of the total chaos, he saved Crimea. But the unlimited autonomy and impunity turned his head. Unbalanced and flabby, vulnerable to flattery and prone to alcohol and drugs, he got absolutely lost in the atmosphere of chaos. He attempted to influence the politics, sent confused projects and proposals to the head-quarters, demanded to replace the leaders with other people who, he thought, were more talented.

Indeed, to decrease the pains in the abdomen caused by the recent wound, Slashchov used morphine in large doses. Slashchov accused Wrangel of cowardice and even theft. Wrangel deprived Slashchov of the orders and the right to wear military uniform.

One of the reasons for their quarrels was that Wrangel understood perfectly well that without the Western allies Russia will fall under bolshevism. This meant that Russia depended on the political will of Britain and, especially, France. For Slashchov, it was impossible and he came up with an idea of the Slavic unity. Slashchov was the first leader of the White Guard who proposed to grant autonomy to Ukraine. He preferred the alliance with Pilsudski's Poland, in spite of the pro-German position of Pilsudski, to the union with L'Entente. His disagreement with Wrangel began during the discussions of the planned advance. Slashchov offered to meet the Poles who advanced from the West, and Wrangel was inclined to accept the proposal of the Western allies and to attack Donetsk. Probably, Wrangel understood that the Slashchov's plan was correct, but the alliance with France and Britain was too important for him.

After the defeat of the White Guard Slashchov evacuated to Turkey and spent some time in Constantinople, growing and selling vegetables. One day he read the agreement between Wrangel and the Entente. His reaction was, as always, unpredictable. "The reds are my enemies, but they did the most important thing: they have revived the great Russia! And I don't care how they call her." This was unbelievable and the white emigrants boycotted him. The bolsheviks, on the contrary, were interested by this reaction. Now, an interesting story begins. During the sitting of Politbureau, Felix Dzerzhinsky offered to invite Slashchov to the Red Army. Zinovyev, Bukharin, and Rykov opposed, but Kamenev, Stalin and Voroshilov supported Dzerzhinsky. Lenin abstained from voting. Trotsky hated Slashchov, but he was not present on this sitting. Dzerzhinsky insisted on sending invitation to Slashchov and the proposal was accepted. Slashchov was amnestied and in November 1921 he and his young second wife Nina Nechvolodova arrived to Sevastopol. BTW, the life of Nina Nechvolodova is itself extremely interesting, but let's leave it for another story.

Why did Dzerzhinsky wanted to see Slashchov in the Red Russia? Of course, Slashchov was a gifted and lucky officer. But it seems that there were other reasons of which we no very little. In 1920, Nina Nechvolodova, who was then pregnant, was caught by the bolsheviks. They knew she was Slashchov's wife. Trotsky's commissar, Rozalia Zemlyachka (Samoylova), who later became one of the executors of Crimea and together with the Hungarian communist Bela Kun exterminated thousands of people there, ordered to shoot Nechvolodova, but for an unknown reason she was set free. The rumours tell that in 1920 Slashchov had a secret meeting with the a Dzerzhinsky's commissar in the Korsunsky monastery, near Berislav. Probably, there were some links between Dzerzhinsky and Slashchov of which we know nothing.

In 1922 Slashchov wrote an appeal to the former officers of the White Guard offering them to return to Russia and many of them did. By 1923, about 223,000 emigrants returned. The officers became officers of the Red Army. Slashchov was sentenced to death in absentia by the Russian All-Military Union, the organization of the white emigrants. The execution never happened, though. Slashchov became a teacher of the Soviet military academy — the Vystrel courses. Many Soviet commanders attended the courses. Soviet general Batov recalled: "He was a brilliant teacher and the tension in the room reminded the tension of the battle. Many of us fought against the White Guard and now a former White general sarcastically commented on our errors. We gritted our teeth angrily, but kept learning." Once Slashchov said that the main cause for the failure of the Soviet-Polish war was the stupidity of the Soviet commanders. Angry Semyon Budyonny, who was one of those "stupid ones", grasped his revolver and made some shots to Slashchov, but missed. Slashchov came to Budyonny and said: "You fought just like you shoot now."

On 11 January 1929, Slashchov was shot in his room by Lazar Kolenberg. During the trial, Kolenberg explained that he did it to revenge for his brother who was hanged by Slashchov. He couldn't prove this, but was soon released without punishment. This assassination strangely coincided with the beginning of repressions against former White officers. Or, probably, it is not strange at all…

Update @13:40 2008-01-15: correction in the paragraph about Wrangel and Poland (see comments below)

Update @0:58 2008-01-25: I have received a very interesting comment from Marc at SimaQianStudio.com. He writes:

"In my much younger days I was known to associate with a bunch of Wrangel and Denniken veterans. The only time I heard Slashchev's name mentioned, the room came to a quick and tense quiet. followed by conversation on other topics. A reaction like that naturally piqued my interest, and since those old timers didn't suffer fools gladly, it was off to the the public library. That's where I learned Slashchev's revolutionary insurgent and counter-insurgent tactics. It was a real revelation, and that knowledge would serve me in good stead in later years. By the way, the old White veterans held Slashchev responsible for the deaths of their comrades, who they thought would never had returned to the USSR were it not for Slashchev's entreaties."

Could it be the reason why the English Wikepedia still lacks the article about Slashchov?


Michael Averko said...

Interesting piece.

Note that Denikin and other Whites weren't against an alliance with Poland. Pilsudski however preferred the Bolsheviks. The Whites were perfectly willing to recognize Polish independence. On the other hand, Pilsudski sought Polish "sea to sea" (Baltic to Black) boundaries, which the Whites wouldn't accept. Bolshevik Commander Tukachvsky is on record for saying that a White-Polish alliance might've led to a Bolshevik defeat.

There're several well documented books on the subject.

One of them is Dmitri Lehovich's "White Against Red" published in the 1970s by W.W. Norton.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! Keep up the great work. Molodets!

Dimitri said...

Michael, thank you for the insightful comment. Could you, please, tell me the source of the information that the Whites were ready to recognize the independence of Poland? Does Lehovich directly confirm it? Indeed, Denikin wrote something like "I fully recognize the right of Poland and Finland for self-determination", but, in my opinion, it was a personal opinion rather than the official stance of the Whites.

AFAIK, Denikin, Wrangel and other leaders of the White Guard were proponents of the idea of "non-predetermination". That is, the Whites fought only to restore the law and order and left all political questions to the Constituent Assembly which had to be held after the victory over bolshevism. The independence of Poland was recognized by the Provisional government, but it had to be confirmed by the Constituent Assembly.

Michael Averko said...


The Provisional Government recognized Polish independence. At issue for the Constituent Assembly was Poland's boundaries. The then White leader Kolchak definitively reconfirms this point. Denikin and Wrangel never went against that view. Denikin sought a Polish-White alliance which Pilsudski refused. I have Lehovich's very well documented book in my home library, along with several other books on the subject. I will gladly provide citations upon request. This subject interest me. I have seen a good share of incorrect comments made about the subject.

The stumbling block in White-Polish relations was the matter of Poland's eastward borders. On that note, it is somewhat fascinating to see how Petlura is now seen as a hero by many present day Galician based Ukrainian nationalists. Petlura was willing to sellout Galicia to Pilsudski in exchange for Polish support of a Ukrainian state with Petlura as head. During the Russian Civil War, the Galician Ukrainians did not get along so well with Petlura. A study of that period indicates that the Galician Ukrainians might have been on comparatively better terms with Denikin. This might have been partly due to a somewhat shared ideology. The Galician Ukrainians and Denikin came from a politically conservative background which didn't particularly like Petlura's professed socialism and one time alliance with the Reds. For that matter, Pilsudski (at least for a time) was considered a socialist.

Denikin was born in Poland and sympathized with Polish independence. His mother was a practicing Polish Catholic and his father an observant Russian Orthodox Christian.

Dimitri said...

Thank you, Mike! I checked it up and found out that I was wrong. I fixed the text.

Michael Averko said...


My thanks go to Andy Young of Siberian Light (for informing me of this post on the Russian Civil War) and yourself for discussing this interesting topic.

Please keep up the great work.