An attempted Communist coup d’état on 1 December 1924

In the early morning of 1 December 1924 the assault groups sent from the Soviet Union, together with underground Estonian communists, attempted to overthrow the Estonian government, seize power and then ask the regular troops of the Red Army for help. The coup was organised by the leaders of the Russian Communist (Bolshevist) Party (Grigory Zinoviev etc), Estonian communists in Russia (Jaan Anvelt), the Communist International known as Comintern and the intelligence and provisions sections of the Red Army. The aim was to establish communist power in Estonia and then the incorporation of Estonia into the USSR.

The active communist movement in Estonia of the early 1920s was finally fading by the end of 1924. The support of the communists had diminished because of the land reform and the stabilising economy. In 1922 the leader of the Estonian communists, Viktor Kingissepp, was captured and executed; at the so-called trial of 149 ending in November 1924, a large number of Estonian communists supervised from the Soviet Union were found guilty and sent to prison. The communists thus decided to seize power by means of armed coup d’état.

The attempted putsch was initially successful – they seized the residence of the State Elder, Tallinn railway stations, the main post office and some regiments. The government forces were finally able to organise themselves, and the attack on the Tondi Military School, the Ministry of War and on other institutions failed. The expected support from the workers did not materialise either – only a few underground communists and workers of the Soviet factories in Tallinn took part. The government declared a state of emergency, and appointed Lieutenant General Johan Laidoner as Commander-in-Chief, the post he had previously held during the War of Independence from 1918-1920; heads of division were granted plenipotentiary power. The revolt was crushed the same day.

The number of rebels was estimated at about 250; they lost 12 men. The death toll among the government forces and civilians was 21. 25 soldiers and 16 civilians were wounded. The court-martials found guilty and executed over one hundred captured rebels and their collaborators; several men were killed during shootouts when they were being arrested after the attempted coup. Many assault group members managed to escape and reached the Soviet Union, including Jaan Anvelt.

After the uprising had been suppressed, the temporarily lethargic Defence League became active again and the political police was reorganised. Most of the organisers and participants, who escaped to the Soviet Union, were killed in the course of the Stalinist ‘purges’ during the 1930s. After Estonia’s occupation in 1940 the Soviet security forces hounded those who had been involved in the suppression of the coup. Most of them were condemned to death.

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