Antonov Uprising

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The Antonov Uprising (19201921) was a large, well-organized peasant revolt in the Tambov province of Central Russia. Part of the Green Movement, the uprising threatened Communist power in 1921 and was a major reason for the abandonment of War Communism.

Alexander Antonov (18891922) was a Socialist Revolutionary (SR) whom the February Revolution rescued from a long prison sentence for robbing railroad station ticket offices. He returned to Tambov province in 1917 to become a district police official under the Provisional Government. He left this post in April 1918 and went underground, organizing an armed guerrilla group to resist the new Communist government.

Increasingly severe food-procurement and conscription policies, along with a drought, pushed Tambov peasants into a spontaneous rebellion against the Communist government in August 1920. Seizing the opportunity, Antonov put himself at the head of the rebellion. He organized a territorially-based army divided into regiments, which he recruited from the many local World War I and civil war veterans. Local socialists created a strong network of local committees (STKsoiuz trudovogo krestian'stva, Union of the Working Peasantry) that created an alternative, noncommunist government in the province. While they fought the Communist government, they did have wider plans. Their program (which survives in various versions) called for an end to civil war, the convening of a freely elected Constituent Assembly, land to the peasants, and workers' control of industry.

Initial attempts to suppress this rebellion were failures. The few troops in the province were unreliable, and often went over to the insurgents. By spring 1921 the insurgents controlled much of the countryside, had halted grain procurement, and threatened rail communications through the province. The central government responded with reforms and repression. Forced grain procurement and conscription were curtailed, removing the greatest irritants to the peasantry. The end of the Polish-Russian war enabled the Communist government to move fifty thousand troops to the province, including crack cavalry brigades, automobile detachments, airplanes, and artillery. By the end of July 1921 the insurgency was crushed. Its regiments were run to ground and annihilated by the larger, better-armed Red Army forces. The Cheka rooted out the STKs and shot or exiled thousands of insurgents. Antonov himself remained at large for another year, but died in a Cheka ambush on June 24, 1922.

See also: civil war of 19171922; green movement; socialist revolutionaries; war communism


DuGarm, A. Delano. (1997). "Peasant Wars in Tambov Province." In The Bolsheviks in Russian Society, ed. Vladimir Brovkin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Radkey, Oliver. (1976). The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.

A. Delano DuGarm