Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"Kolchak" Is Not The Name of Some Movie Vampire

After the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917, many of those who opposed him fled to the reaches of the far-flung empire to set up their own governments-in-exile and organize a counter-revolution. Among them were those who settled upon Siberia as their base of operations, installing an Admiral Kolchak as their dictator. Civil war in Siberia by Jonathan Smele is a 675-page study of the civil war that resulted during 1918-1920. May the god of compendious volumes bless me, I just finished reading the whole thing.

Smele's audience is scholars of Russian history. His book is detailed and dry, but that's pretty much unavoidable. He's writing an in-depth study, so he had to make his points and back them up. That resulted in a lot of humdrum facts and scholarly references. He also had to comment upon the arguments of others who have written about the period. A certain tedium is inevitable is such cases and, like I said, I don't blame him for it. Given that I'm no Russian scholar by any means, you might be wondering why I put myself through this.

It was another book that made me do it. I was reading Conjuring Hitler: How Britain and America made the Third Reich by Guido Giacomo Preparata. The title of the book says it all, and I was intrigued. Right away though, I started having my doubts. Preparata seemed to think that the Brits were the hidden hand behind everything that happened in Europe since the mid-19th century and the rise of the German nation. He portrayed them as the puppetmaster working the strings of the continent's most influential political actors. It smacked of a conspiracy theory to me, but Preparata's credentials are legit. He's an assistant professor of political economy at the University of Washington, but still. That's the left coast and it got me to wondering. The book is thoroughly footnoted and it has a large bibliography, so I decided to check him out.

Consider this passage from Conjuring Hitler. By the way, for those of you who don't know, the term for those who opposed the Bolsheviks or Reds was "Whites". Also, regarding the Czechs mentioned below, they were former prisoners of war from World War One, who had been interned in POW camps in Siberia. Though it was a bit more complicated than this, when they were released they fought on the side of the White forces and against the Bolsheviks.

"By mid-1918, Siberia demanded a White commander.

Before the local orientation could identify a chief, the British rushed to slip a straw man in the cockpit. For the role British intelligence cast a former czarist admiral, Aleksandr Kolchak, who had been on its payroll since November 1917.

Flanked and directed by General Knox, Britain's intelligence officer in the Siberia, Kolchak, with the cooperation of the Siberian Whites, and the discreet assent of the Czechs, usurped command of the Siberian counter-revolutionary outpost a week after the armistice in the West, on November 18, 1918, and made Omsk the capital of his dictatorship."

Everything that Preparata says there is factually correct, however, he casts his statements in such a way as to create a false impression. First, let me say that Kolchak was without a doubt the Brits' man, to the point that, after his installation, British troops guarded his residence. He appeared at affairs of state in a British uniform where "God Save The Queen" was played. However, he wasn't just some creation of British intelligence. He was a genuine hero in World War One, one of the few the Russians had, and he was being courted by all of the great powers to one degree or another, because he was seen as a likely leader of the counter-revolutionary movement in the east of Russia. Hence, when Preparata points out that he was on the British payroll since November 1917, he's creating something of a false impression. The fact is that he was also on the Japanese payroll for a while as well, and he had connections with the French. The truth is murkier than Preparata suggests.

The upshot of this is that I now know that Preparata is trying to make a stronger case than the facts support. Through various overt and covert means, the British did their best to ensure that a regime came to power in post-War Germany that would stand in opposition to Bolshevik Russia in the East and there is some evidence that they financed the Frei Korps, a German movement of veterans from which the Nazis sprang. Likewise, the British and American governments and businesses were complicit with the Nazi regime in many ways, but it goes too far to suggest that Hitler was their creation.


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