A short account of the revolutionaries of the Dvinsk Regiment and the suspicious death of their commander Grachov
“…Arshinov often told me how the comrades of the Moscow Federation and the renowned Dvintsy (soldiers of the Dvinsk regiment under the command of our comrade Grachov) fought in the streets of Moscow. His stories never failed to fill me with pride in the Moscow Anarchists as well as Grachov and all the Dvintsy”. Nestor Makno, Under the Blows of the Counterrevolution.
In June 1917 after the February Revolution and the installation of the Provisional Government of Kerensky, soldiers of the 5th Army on the Northern Front revolted and refused to recognize the death penalty imposed by the government to “restore morale” in the armed forces. Cossack regiments were told to impose discipline on the infantry regiments, which proved to be an unpopular order. They were then threatened that if they did not carry this out, they themselves would replace the infantry in the trenches. As a result over a thousand soldiers were arrested and sent to the city of Dvinsk. Here a concentration camp was set up at the Dvina fortess. The number of those imprisoned very quickly rose to 20,000. The courts worked round the clock, handing out death sentences and sentences of hard labour and sending the repentant back to the front. Conditions were appalling, thanks in part to the overcrowding. By mid- August there were so many prisoners that it was decided to send them in the rear.
869 soldiers who had served on the front for three years were sent to the Butyrki prison in Moscow. Nestor Makhno had been released from there just six months before after serving eight years.
The conditions at the Butyrki were horrific, with infestations of lice and bed-bugs, dreadful sanitation and very damp conditions with massive overcrowding. The prison commandant promised the soldiers that they would only be there for 3-6 days but this proved to be untrue and the treatment of the soldiers worsened. Twenty five to thirty soldiers shared one cell, and in some there were as many as 75. On the twelth day there the soldiers began a hunger strike. Workers in Moscow began to hold mass meetings demanding their release. On the 22nd September the authorities had to give in to mass pressure and released the soldiers. They were in a serious state and were put in two hospitals in Moscow. Here they decided to stand together as a body. When they came out of hospital they formed a revolutionary regiment. The Bolsheviks had influence in the regiment and organised a cell within it and sought to be elected to the posts of unit and platoon commanders. However the Dvinsk Regiment as it came to be called was under predominantly Anarchist influence and elected the veteran Anarchist Grachov as its commander. An anarchist- communist from before 1917, Grachov had been an ensign in the Tsarist Army. The Dvintsy acted in close collaboration with the Moscow Federation of Anarchists of which Grachov was a member.
During the October Revolution the fighting in Moscow was particularly bloody, unlike Saint Petersburg where there were few lives lost. In Moscow 300 died with many injured. The Dvinsk Regiment took a leading part in the fighting on the days between 26th October to 2nd November. Grachov commanded the units which seized the City Hall building, the Hotel Metropole and the Kremlin. In the shooting the Cadets put up a fierce resistance. In what is now Red Square the thirty year old Bolshevik Yevgeny Sapunov, who was leading one of the Dvintsy units, was killed.
Seventy of the Dvintsy who had fallen in the fighting were among those buried in the necropolis of the Kremlin Wall where they rest today. They became a part of the iconography of the new Soviet regime. However the actual situation was a little different. Volin in his Unknown Revolution describesit thus: the Dvintsy set up their headquarters in the building that housed the Moscow Soviet. At the same time the Bolsheviks established a Revolutionary Committee (RevKom) which declared itself ‘the supreme power”. The staff of the Dvintsy, as Anarchists, immediately fell under suspicion and a net of spies was set up around it by the Bolsheviks. Grachov, with other members of the staff, was concerned about the direction of the revolution. Gathering together arms and ammunition, he had the idea of arming the workers. Rifles, machine guns and ammunition were sent off to several factories to be distributed by the factory committees.
This immediately was met with resistance by the new authorities. In late November 1917 Grachov was summoned to Nizhny Novgorod on military matters. Here in the building of the military commissariat he was fatally shot. The official Bolshevik version was that he was killed by an inexperienced soldier who was carelessly handling a weapon in an “unfortunate accident”. Anarchists felt differently that it was a murder engineered by the new authorities. Shortly after, the Dvinsk Regiment was disbanded by the new regime as soon were all other revolutionary regiments that had taken part in the fighting in Moscow and Petrograd.
Sources: Volin. The unkown revolution.
Makhno,N. Under the blows of the counterrevolution.
Biographical note by Anatoly Dubovik on Grachov at socialist.memo.ru/dates/index.htm
Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kremlin_Wall_Necropolis