Uprisings of the Common Man: 4 Bloody Peasant Revolts
Uprisings of the Common Man: 4 Bloody Peasant Revolts

Uprisings of the Common Man: 4 Bloody Peasant Revolts

Jeanette Lamb - April 12, 2017

Uprisings of the Common Man: 4 Bloody Peasant Revolts
Russian Civil War. Xenohistorian

Russian Peasant Uprisings

Years of calamity, fighting, unrest and grappling with new political heads of authority seem inextricably woven into revolutions. The Russian Revolution was a reaction by peasant farmers and factory workers to poor working conditions and the expectation of high outputs, whether a harvest or on an assembly line. Protests took two very different forms of expression.

Peasant farmers would slow work needed to produce massive crops, and the effects would trickle into the bustling cities where workers were living in dire conditions caused by intense overcrowding; add starvation to that and the peasants effectively triggered the onset of a massive revolt. Eventually, the city rebellion grew beyond the Tsar’s capacity. During 1917, the Russian Tsar Nicholas II was assassinated, and what followed was a civil war fought by political party factions all vying for authority.

Overall, the war was divided into two sides, the Red and White armies, but along with them were pro-independence movements. Countries such as Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland celebrated independence as a result of the war. Other countries, such as Ukraine, fought for autonomy but ultimately were defeated by the end when the Soviet Union was created. The vast differences between the Red and White armies are staggering when considering the outcome. The Red Army was made of 300,000 soldiers and the White Army 2.4 million. The White Army stood in opposition to the Bolshevik movement. they were anti-communist, anti-Bolshevism, pro- monarchy, and pro-Russia.

The overarching ideology of the White Army was rooted in the established political landscape, as it was under the Russian empire. Nationalistic overtones were widespread throughout the part,y which was rife with anti-Semitic views. The inability or lack of foresight to offer a clearer ideology than this points to the underpinning reason for the party’s demise. Despite international support from the British Empire, France, Greece, the United States, China, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, and Italy, the White Army had no set plans regarding a foreign policy. Its leaders placated the public telling them a governmental structure would be decided upon after the war concluded. The White Army was little more than a massive group with a dead Tsar at its helm.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Red Army had a detailed ideological blueprint that mapped out who they were and what they believed. Thanks to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist playbook, Red leaders had been organizing since before the outbreak of the revolution. Leon Trotsky served as the Red Army’s war commissioner and acknowledged the peasants and city factory workers by overhauling the old Red Guard as a way of bringing them into the fold.

With its new name, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army enabled Trotsky to organize a professional military force. The Reds knew they were short on men and had to make well-informed decisions about organization if they were to win. Trotsky appointed political heads to each of the Worker and Peasant Red Army units with the purpose of keeping morale and thus loyalty intact. His most impressive and effective move was recruiting 80% of the former Tsarist soldiers to the Red’s sidelines.

After the peasant-infused Russian Revolution, a number of peasant revolts occurred during the Russian Civil War. During the Pitchfork Uprising in 1920 in the village of Yanga Yelan, peasants organized a rebellion in reaction to the confiscation of their food by the Red Army, who reacted by arresting some of the farmers. This set the stage for a revolt, and 50,000 peasants joined the fight. Because they had no access to artillery, the peasants used tools of their trade as weapons: pitchforks, spades, and axes.

Uprisings of the Common Man: 4 Bloody Peasant Revolts
The Saxon Peasant Revolt 1790. Public Domain

Saxon Peasants’ Revolt (1790)

Flails, clubs, and axes were reached for during the Saxon Peasants’ Revolt of 1790 that pitted military nobility against peasants. Things were most heated in the cities of Dresden, Leipzig, and Zwickau, but the dispute was over rural areas and hunting rights. The nobility reserved rights of hunting for themselves. This happened at the same time laws were being passed that took away old ways of doing business during feudal times. The creation of a feudal rent system established financial arrangements allowing peasant land workers to pay for the right to work land for a monetary exchange in accordance to their crop output.

Laws being passed unfairly aligned with the economic interests of the landowners. With this in place, it took only a few more key factors before peasants’ lives were endangered. Lower monetary gains were accented by limited access to hunting rights on gamekeeping reserves. After one long winter and a summer-long drought, peasants feeling desperate for food began to revolt against the state. The outbreak of the revolt was in the quiet village of Wechselburg where the House of Schonberg were the monarchs in resident. The Schonberg territorial ownership spanned from Saxony into Thuringia and Bohemia. Depending on a number of factors that status of nobility living in the areas was dependent on the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

By August of 1790, the peasant revolt became serious; farmers had taken over fifteen patrimonial country districts that equaled 5,000 square meters of land, including areas around cities Dresden, Dippoldiswalde, Stolpen, Radeberg, and Torgau that were experiencing outbreaks of violence. Peasants launched attacks on castles and had managed to disarm the Saxon military through a show of force. Some southern Saxon villages had to release their labor force because of pressure from peasants. In the city of Meissen, 2,000 rebels successfully released peasants who had been imprisoned.

The revolt overall was a success. Peasants were clear in their desire to eliminate hunting laws that favored the privileged, the feudal rent system, and forms of interest on contributions. Some lords were dismissed by the peasants, in other cases, lords agreed to all the peasant requests. The rebellion soon ended and was quelled by the military by September of that year.