Who are the Primorye Partisans?

Russia’s Far East has always been an unruly place. Tsars and Communists alike dumped its criminals and politicals there. In the interwar period it was a hot bed for lawlessness and banditry, where gangs and holdouts of the White Army made life difficult for the new Soviet state. There is one historical artifact that always stands out in my mind when it comes to the Russia’s Far East. I tend to give it to my students so they can get a flavor of the heady days of the Russian Revolution. The document is an anonymous letter to Lenin dated 15 January 1918. After lambasting Lenin for not keeping his promise to deliver “peace, bread, land, and liberty in three days’ time” the complainant ended with this warning: “If you’ve picked up the reins [of power] then go ahead and drive, and if you can’t, then, honey, you can take a flying fuck to hell, or as we say in Siberia, you’re a goddamned motherfucker, son of an Irkutsk cunt, who’d like to sell us out to the Germans. No, you won’t be selling us out: don’t forget that we Siberians are all convicts.”*

This document has resonated with me over the last few days as Russian police forces scoured the Primorye Krai looking for the so-called “Russian Rambos.” The problem is that the evidence that these guys are “Rambos,” “Robin Hoods” or “revolutionaries” is rather thin. It seems that they are at best common criminals and worse Russian fascists, making the supposed support of the “partisans” quite disturbing.