Communist subversion against the state in the Republic of Estonia in the nineteen-twenties and thirties

​During the War of Independence, the Estonian communists led by Viktor Kingissepp organised subversive activities against the Republic of Estonia. With the help of communist agitation, the Saaremaa Uprising erupted in February 1919, and in August the First Trade Union Congress expressed support for the communists. After the Tartu Peace Treaty in 1920, the Estonian Central Committee was reorganised into the Communist Party of Estonia (CPE), although in reality it continued as a section of the Comintern and received instructions from Moscow.

According to the general Comintern policy, underground and open activities were blended from summer 1920 onwards. The communists participated in the Estonian parliamentary elections in 1920 and won five seats. As the Communist Party had been banned since December 1918, the members used various umbrella organisations, such as trade unions, and culture and sport societies. When the communists achieved majority at the board of these organisations, the dissidents were expelled, and the communists took over. They mainly found support among urban workers, and also among the Russian-speaking population in the areas bordering the Soviet Union.

A serious blow to the movement was the capture and execution of the highest local leader, Viktor Kingissepp, on 3 May 1922. The number of communists decreased also because of the major political lawsuits in 1920-1924, in which several hundred communists were convicted of crimes against the state. Nevertheless, the CPE had its heyday in 1922-1923. At the parliamentary elections in 1923 they stood in the Workers United Front and got ten seats in Riigikogu. The membership of the illegal CPE increased to 2000. This was aided by the communists’ populist election platform and the difficult economic situation.

Taking advantage of the situation, the communists planned an armed coup d’état in early 1924. However, they overestimated their abilities, and the attempt to seize power on 1 December 1924 failed within a few hours. This had a devastating effect on the party. Most members fled to the Soviet Union; the few communist attempts to gather force in Estonia were suppressed by Kapo, the Estonian counterintelligence service. By 1932, only 20-30 Communist Party members were still free in Estonia.

Most of the Estonian communists living in the Soviet Union were killed in the mass reprisals in 1937 and 1938, including the entire Central Committee of the Communist Party of Estonia. Communists in Estonia lost touch with the Comintern, which ceased to send instructions and financial support. At the same time, the 1938 amnesty in Estonia released many people convicted for communist activities. Without Moscow’s instructions, the party activists formed a five-member Illegal Bureau in 1938, which formally fulfilled the tasks of the local Communist Party until summer 1940. By the end of the 1930s the Estonian Communist Party, with its 150 members, constituted a marginal movement, with very little support among the population.

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