Estonian Workers’ Commune

Short-lived Bolshevist puppet state during the War of Independence

The Estonian War of Independence started on 28 November 1918 with the Red Army troops invading Narva. The Bolshevist Provisional Revolutionary Committee wanted the invasion to develop into a full-scale civil war and hence declared the Estonian Soviet Republic or Estonian Workers’ Commune on 29 November in Narva. The leader (chairman of the council) of the Commune was Jaan Anvelt. The Commune manifesto proclaimed Soviet power and revolutionary laws in the country reinstated, and the orders and regulations of the Provisional Government invalid, and outlawed the government and its officials. This was essentially a declaration of war against the Provisional Government of Estonia.

Although Soviet Russia recognised the independence of the Commune on 7 December 1918, it was nevertheless Russia’s puppet state, as the Estonian Red Rifle Regiments (the Commune’s ‘own’ army) were part of the Red Army. Moreover, the communist party organisation active on the Commune territory belonged to the Russian Communist Party and was subject to it.

By early January 1919 the Red Army had occupied over half of the Estonian territory where the Commune had established its power. Industrial enterprises were nationalised and the manors expropriated. The lands and property of the manors were, however, not given to the people; these were supposed to form the basis of collectives. Religious holidays were abolished and pastors arrested. The Commune unleashed the red Terror, executed by local commissions fighting against counter-revolution. They set up a concentration camp near the town of Luga.

Massacres were committed in Rakvere, Tartu, Valga and Võru; altogether at least 500 people were murdered during the terror on the basis of their social class and profession. Several high-ranking church leaders were killed, as were hostages whom the retreating Commune could not or did not want to take along. In January 1919 the Commune also declared a general mobilisation, but it failed because of the recent counter-attacks by the People’s Force. By the end of January, the People’s Force managed to drive the Red Army, together with the Commune, out of Estonian territory.

The leadership of the Commune continued to operate in Russia. However, as the Red Army failed to occupy Estonia and the Commune became an obstacle in concluding a peace treaty between the Soviet government and Estonia, it was dissolved on 5 June 1919 at Staraya Russa.

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