The Russian Civil War 1917-1922

Russian Civil War Art - Red Army vs White Army.jpgRussian Civil War Art – Red Army vs White Army

Russian Civil War - Bolshevik Revolution

Russian Civil War – Bolshevik Revolution


Anti-Bolshevik Civil War Poster

Slavic Christian Monks

Slavic Christian Monks meet a man on the road.
“Trade your blade for the staff.” Says the saint.
“It is best to defend yourself without killing your foes.”
– Ascetic Eremitic Proverb

What was going on in the world 100 years ago?

Nicholas II after being taken captive, c. 1917.jpg

King Nicholas II after being taken captive by Soviet Bolsheviks, c. 1917

Nicholas II or Nikolai II (Russian: Николай II Алекса́ндрович, tr. Nikolai II Aleksandrovich; 18 May [O.S. 6 May] 1868 – 17 July 1918), known as Saint Nicholas II of Russia in the Russian Orthodox Church, was the last Emperor of Russia, ruling from 1 November 1894 until his forced abdication on 15 March 1917.[1] His reign saw the fall of the Russian Empire from one of the foremost great powers of the world to economic and military collapse. He was given the nickname Nicholas the Bloody by his political adversaries due to the Khodynka Tragedy, anti-Semitic pogroms, Bloody Sunday, the violent suppression of the 1905 Russian Revolution, the executions of political opponents, and his perceived responsibility for the Russo-Japanese War.[2][3] Soviet historians portray Nicholas as a weak and incompetent leader whose decisions led to military defeats and the deaths of millions of his subjects.

Russia was defeated in the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese War which saw the annihilation of the Russian Baltic Fleet at the Battle of Tsushima, the loss of Russian influence over Manchuria and Korea, and the Japanese annexation of South Sakhalin. The Anglo-Russian Entente was designed to counter the German Empire‘s attempts to gain influence in the Middle East, but it ended the Great Game of confrontation between Russia and the United Kingdom. Nicholas approved the Russian mobilization on 30 July 1914 which led to Germany declaring war on Russia on 1 August 1914. It is estimated that around 3.3 million Russians were killed in the First World War.[5] The Imperial Russian Army‘s severe losses, the High Command’s incompetent management of the war efforts, and the lack of food and supplies on the Home Front were the leading causes of the fall of the House of Romanov.

Following the February Revolution of 1917, Nicholas abdicated on behalf of himself and his son. He and his family were imprisoned and transferred to Tobolsk in late summer 1917.[6] On 30 April 1918, Nicholas, Alexandra, and his daughter Maria were handed over to the local Ural Soviet in Ekaterinburg; the rest of the captives followed on 23 May.[7] Nicholas and his family were eventually executed by their Bolshevik guards on the night of 16/17 July 1918.[8] The remains of the imperial family were re-interred in St. Petersburg 80 years later on 17 July 1998.

In 1981, Nicholas, his wife, and their children were recognized as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in New York City.[9] On 15 August 2000,[10] they were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as passion bearers, commemorating believers who face death in a Christ-like manner.[11]

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The Last of the cursed Romanov Dynasty

Tsar Nicholas II.jpg

Tsar Nicholas II

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Boris Kustodiyev painting of Nicholas II, 1915

Why Did The Bolsheviks Win The Civil War?

There were six reasons why the Bolsheviks won the Civil War.

The first reason was that the Whites were disunited.   They were a coalition of different enemies of the Bolsheviks (Social Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, Tsarists, army officers angry at Brest Litovsk, and nobles whose land had been given to the peasants).   In fact, all these different groups hated each other!   They were disunited and their armies were thousands of miles apart – Generals Yudenich and Deniken attacked Russia from the west, Admiral Kolchak from the east.   This meant that Trotsky could co-ordinate his forces much better, and fight his enemies one at a time.

The second reason was Trotsky, who was a brilliant war leader and strategist, so the Red Army had good tactics.

A third reason was belief.   Many Russians were Communists, who believed they were fighting for a better world.   Others fought for them because they hated foreign (British, American and French) armies invading Russia.   This motivated the Bolshevik soldiers – they were fervent and enthusiastic.   Most of their enemies were fighting only because they were paid to.

Lenin helped the Bolsheviks by introducing War Communism.   The Bolsheviks nationalised the factories, and introduced military discipline.   Strikes were made illegal.   They introduced rationing and forced the peasants to give food to the government.   This put the whole nation on a war footing, and gave the Bolshevik armies the supplies they needed.

Whereas the whites were disunited, the Bolsheviks maintained absolute unity through Terror.   The Tsar and his family were put to death, which removed a focal point for the whites.   The Cheka murdered any Whites they found – more than 7000 people were executed, and Red Army generals were kept loyal by taking their families hostage – so the Bolsheviks were united and disciplined towards a single end – winning the war.

Finally, the Bolsheviks had what they needed to win the war.   The British, French and American armies were fighting thousands of miles from home, at the end of a long supply line.   The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, had control of the main cities of Moscow and Petrograd (with their factories), control of the railways (vital), an army of 300,000 men, very strict army discipline, and internal lines of communication – giving them the advantage in the war.   When Kolchak was defeated in 1919, the foreign armies went home.   The last white army was defeated in the Crimea in 1920.

Russian Civil War

Date 7 November 1917 – 16 June 1923[1][2] (Revolt against Soviet rule continued in Central Asia until 1934)
Location Former Russian Empire, Galicia, Mongolia, Tuva, northern Persia
Result Victory for the Red Army in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, South Caucasus, Central Asia, Tuva, and Mongolia;
Victory for pro-independence movements in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland
Establishment of the Soviet Union; Independence of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland[3]
Cessation of Kars, Erzurum, Ardahan, Ağrı and Iğdır to Turkey
Union of Bessarabia with Romania
Soviet Russia and other Soviet republics

Left SR (until March 1918)
Green armies (until 1919)

Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (1919–20)

White Movement

Other new republics

Allied intervention

German-led intervention

Commanders and leaders
Vladimir Lenin
 Leon Trotsky
 Jukums Vācietis
 Sergey Kamenev
 Joseph Stalin

Nestor Makhno

Alexander Kolchak Executed
Lavr Kornilov 
Anton Denikin
Pyotr Wrangel
Nikolai Yudenich
Grigory Semyonov
5,427,273 (peak)[4]

103,000 Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine[citation needed]

2,400,000 White Russians
Casualties and losses
950,000 total casualties, 1,200,000 died from the Red Terror[5] 650,000 total casualties, 300,000 died from the White Terror

Civil War Russia ArticleImage.jpg

Clockwise from top: Soldiers of the Don Army in 1919; a White infantry division in March 1920; soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Army; Leon Trotsky in 1918; hanging of workers in Yekaterinoslav by the Austro-Hungarian Army, April 1918

The Russian Civil War (Russian: Гражда́нская война́ в Росси́и, tr. Grazhdanskaya voyna v Rossiyi; November 1917 – October 1922)[6] was a multi-party war in the former Russian Empire immediately after the Russian Revolutions of 1917, as many factions vied to determine Russia’s political future. The two largest combatant groups were the Red Army, fighting for the Bolshevik form of socialism led by Vladimir Lenin, and the loosely allied forces known as the White Army, which included diverse interests favoring monarchism, capitalism and alternative forms of socialism, each with democratic and antidemocratic variants. In addition, rival militant socialists and nonideological Green armies fought against both the Bolsheviks and the Whites. Eight foreign nations intervened against the Red Army, notably the Allied Forces and the pro-German armies.[7] The Red Army defeated the White Armed Forces of South Russia in Ukraine and the army led by Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak in Siberia in 1919. The remains of the White forces commanded by Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel were beaten in Crimea and evacuated in late 1920. Lesser battles of the war continued on the periphery for two more years, and minor skirmishes with the remnants of the White forces in the Far East continued well into 1923. The war ended in 1923 in the sense that Red control of the newly formed Soviet Union was now assured, although armed national resistance in Central Asia was not completely crushed until 1934. There were an estimated 7,000,000–12,000,000 casualties during the war, mostly civilians. The Russian Civil War has been described by some as the greatest national catastrophe that Europe had yet seen.[8]

Many pro-independence movements emerged after the break-up of the Russian Empire and fought in the war.[3] Several parts of the former Russian Empire—Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland—were established as sovereign states, with their own civil wars and wars of independence. The rest of the former Russian Empire was consolidated into the Soviet Union shortly afterwards.


February Revolution

After the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the Russian Provisional Government was established during the February Revolution of 1917.

Formation of the Red Army

From mid-1917 onwards, the Russian Army, the successor-organisation of the old Russian Imperial Army, started to disintegrate;[9] the Bolsheviks used the volunteer-based Red Guards as their main military force, augmented by an armed military component of the Cheka (the Bolshevik state-security apparatus). In January 1918, after significant Bolshevik reverses in combat, the future People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs Leon Trotsky headed the reorganization of the Red Guards into a Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army in order to create a more effective fighting force. The Bolsheviks appointed political commissars to each unit of the Red Army to maintain morale and to ensure loyalty.

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Red Army Troops Advancing into Battle

In June 1918, when it had become apparent that a revolutionary army composed solely of workers would not suffice, Trotsky instituted mandatory conscription of the rural peasantry into the Red Army.[10] The Bolsheviks overcame opposition of rural Russians to Red-Army conscription units by taking hostages and shooting them when necessary in order to force compliance,[11] exactly the same practices used by the White Army officers.[12] The Red Army utilized former Tsarist officers as “military specialists” (voenspetsy),[13] sometimes their families were taken hostage in order to ensure their loyalty.[14] At the start of the civil war, former Tsarist officers comprised three-quarters of the Red Army officer-corps.[14] By its end, 83% of all Red Army divisional and corps commanders were ex-Tsarist soldiers.[13]

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White Army Kolchak Government (1918)


White Army/Kolchak Government (1917-1923) “Parade Music”

The White movement and its military arm the White Army, also known as the White Guard or the White, was a loose confederation of Anti-Communist forces that fought the Bolsheviks, also known as the Reds, in the Russian Civil War (1917–1922/3) and, to a lesser extent, continued operating as militarized associations both outside and within Russian borders until roughly the Second World War. Remnants and continuations of the movement, some of which only had narrow support, endured within the wider White émigré community until after the fall of Communism.

Anti-Bolshevik movement

While resistance to the Red Guard began on the very day after the Bolshevik uprising, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the political ban [clarification needed] became a catalyst[15] for the formation of anti-Bolshevik groups both inside and outside Russia, pushing them into action against the new regime.

A loose confederation of anti-Bolshevik forces aligned against the Communist government, including landowners, republicans, conservatives, middle-class citizens, reactionaries, pro-monarchists, liberals, army generals, non-Bolshevik socialists who still had grievances and democratic reformists voluntarily united only in their opposition to Bolshevik rule. Their military forces, bolstered by forced conscriptions and terror[12] and by foreign influence and led by Gen. Yudenich, Adm. Kolchak and Gen. Denikin, became known as the White movement (sometimes referred to as the “White Army”) and controlled significant parts of the former Russian Empire for most of the war.

Russian nationalism.jpg

A Ukrainian nationalist movement was active in Ukraine during the war. More significant was the emergence of an anarchist political and military movement known as the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine or the Anarchist Black Army led by Nestor Makhno. The Black Army, which counted numerous Jews and Ukrainian peasants in its ranks, played a key part in halting Gen. Denikin’s White Army offensive towards Moscow during 1919, later ejecting White forces from Crimea.

The remoteness of the Volga Region, the Ural Region, Siberia and the Far East was favorable for the anti-Bolshevik forces, and the Whites set up a number of organizations in the cities of these regions. Some of the military forces were set up on the basis of clandestine officers’ organizations in the cities.

The Czechoslovak Legions had been part of the Russian army and numbered around 30,000 troops by October 1917. They had an agreement with the new Bolshevik government to be evacuated from the Eastern Front via the port of Vladivostok to France. The transport from the Eastern Front to Vladivostok slowed down in the chaos, and the troops became dispersed all along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Under pressure from the Central Powers, Trotsky ordered the disarming and arrest of the legionaries, which created tensions with the Bolsheviks.

The Western Allies armed and supported opponents of the Bolsheviks. They were worried about (1) a possible Russo-German alliance, (2) the prospect of the Bolsheviks making good on their threats to default on Imperial Russia’s massive foreign loans and (3) the possibility that the Communist revolutionary ideas would spread (a concern shared by many Central Powers). Hence, many of these countries expressed their support for the Whites, including the provision of troops and supplies. Winston Churchill declared that Bolshevism must be “strangled in its cradle”.[16] The British and French had supported Russia during World War I on a massive scale with war materials. After the treaty, it looked like much of that material would fall into the hands of the Germans. Under this pretext began Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War with the United Kingdom and France sending troops into Russian ports. There were violent clashes with troops loyal to the Bolsheviks.

The German Empire created several short-lived satellite buffer states within its sphere of influence after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk: the “United Baltic Duchy“, “Duchy of Courland and Semigallia“, “Kingdom of Lithuania“, “Kingdom of Poland“, the “Belarusian People’s Republic“, and the “Ukrainian State“. Following the defeat of Germany in World War I in November 1918, these states were abolished.

Finland was the first republic that declared its independence from Russia in December 1917 and established itself in the ensuing Finnish Civil War from January–May 1918. The Second Polish Republic, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia formed their own armies immediately after the abolition of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and the start of the Soviet westward offensive in November 1918.

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Coat of Arms of the Russian Government, 1919

White Movement

Бѣлое движенiе

Белое движение

Participant in the Russian Civil War
Flag of Russia.svg

Russian pre-war flag, commonly used by the Whites
Active In Russia: 1917–23
Abroad: until 1960s
Ideology Anti-Bolshevism
Russian nationalism
Monarchism (partly)
Liberalism (partly)

White Army Kolchak Government (1918).jpg

Painting of Tsar Nicholas II and the Monarchist Imperial Court of Russia



White Army/Kolchak Government (1918-1920) Official Anthem “How Glorious is our Lord in Zion” (1794)

“How Glorious is our Lord in Zion is the hymn composed on the spring of 1794 by composer Dmitry Bortnyanski, to the lyrics of Mikhail Kheraskov. Widely known as the unofficial anthem of the Russian empire from the late 18th century until the official adoption of “God Save the Tsar” in the 1830s, it was described in 19th century printed notations to be the “Russian national hymn”. From 1856 to 1917 the clocks of the Spasskaya Tower in the Moscow Kremlin rang the melody of “How Glorious” alongside the Preobrazhensky March. It was also widely used on White-controlled territories during the Russian Civil War, as well as in immigration. The lyrics of the hymn, rich in Christian symbolism, are based on the 47th Psalm, while its meter resembles that of the Great Znamenny chant.”

White movement

The White movement (Russian: Бѣлое движеніе/Белое движение, tr. Beloye dvizheniye, IPA: [ˈbʲɛləɪ dvʲɪˈʐenʲɪɪ]) and its military arm the White Army (Бѣлая Армія/Белая Армия, Belaya Armiya), also known as the White Guard (Бѣлая Гвардія/Белая Гвардия, Belaya Gvardiya), the White Guardsmen (Белогвардейцы, Belogvardeytsi) or simply the Whites (Белые, Beliye), was a loose confederation of Anti-Communist forces that fought the Bolsheviks, also known as the Reds, in the Russian Civil War (1917–1922/3) and, to a lesser extent, continued operating as militarized associations both outside and within Russian borders until roughly the Second World War.

During the Russian Civil War, the White movement was a big tent political movement, representing an array of political opinions in Russia united in their opposition to the Bolsheviks, from the republican-minded bourgeois liberals and Kerenskyite social democrats who had profited from the February Revolution, to the champions of Tsarism and Orthodox Christianity on the right.

Following their defeat, there were remnants and continuations of the movement, some of which only had narrow support, enduring within the wider White émigré community until after the fall of Communism. This community in exile was often divided between the liberals and the more conservative sections.


Flag of Russian Empire (1914-1917)

Structure and ideology

In the Russian context after 1917 “White” had three main connotations:

  1. political contra-distinction to the Reds, whose revolutionary Red Army supported the Bolshevik government
  2. historical reference to absolute monarchy, specifically recalling Russia’s first Tsar, Ivan III (reigned 1462–1505),[4] at a period when some styled the ruler of Muscovy Albus Rex (“the White King”)[5]
  3. the white uniforms of Imperial Russia worn by some White Army soldiers

White Army Russian Civil War poster.jpg

White Army Russian Civil War poster


The White movement emerged as, above all, opponents of the Red Army.[6] The White Army had the stated aim to keep law and order in Russia as the Tsar’s army before the civil war, and the salvation of Russia. [7] They worked to remove Soviet organizations and functionaries in White-controlled territory.[8]

Overall, the White Army was nationalistic,[9] and rejected ethnic particularism and separatism.[10] The White Army generally believed in a united multinational Russia and opposed separatists who wanted to create nation-states.[11] US historians Richard L. Rubenstein and John K Roth state that 60,000 Russian Bolshevik army Jews were killed in combat (with 240,000 wounded) against White forces during the Civil War.[12] Winston Churchill personally warned General Denikin, whose forces effected pogroms against the Jews, that

my task in winning support in Parliament for the Russian Nationalist cause will be infinitely harder if well-authenticated complaints continue to be received from Jews in the zone of the Volunteer Armies.[13]

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Many of the White leaders were conservative, accepting autocracy while remaining suspicious of “politics” (which they characterized as consisting of speeches, elections, and party activities).[14] Aside from being anti-Bolshevik[15] and patriotic, the Whites had no set ideology or main leader.[16] The White Armies did acknowledge a single provisional head of state, the Supreme Governor of Russia, but this post was prominent only under the leadership (1918-1920) of Admiral Alexander Kolchak.

The movement had no set plan for foreign policy; Whites differed on policies toward Germany, debating whether or not to ally with it. The Whites wanted to keep from alienating any potential supporters and allies, and thus saw an exclusively monarchist position as a detriment to their cause and recruitment. White-movement leaders such as Anton Denikin advocated for Russians to create their own government, claiming the military could not decide in Russians’ steads.[17] Admiral Alexander Kolchak succeeded in creating a temporary wartime government in Omsk, acknowledged by most other White leaders, only for it to fall with the loss of his armies.

Some warlords who were aligned with the White movement, such as Grigory Semyonov and Roman Ungern von Sternberg, did not acknowledge any authority but their own. Consequently, the White movement had no set political leanings: members could be monarchists, republicans,[18] rightists, Kadets, etc.[19] Among White Army leaders, neither General Lavr Kornilov nor General Anton Denikin were monarchists, yet General Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel was a monarchist willing to soldier for a republican Russian government. Moreover, other political parties supported the anti-Bolshevik White Army, among them the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, and others who opposed Lenin’s Bolshevik October Revolution of 1917. But depending on the time and place, those White Army supporters might also exchange right-wing allegiance for allegiance to the Red Army.

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White Army

“Why aren’t you in the army?” Volunteer Army recruiting poster during the Russian Civil War

The White Army: the flag of the Battalion of Death, later integral to the Volunteer Army.

The Volunteer Army in South Russia became the most prominent and the largest of the various and disparate White forces.[6] Starting off as a small and well-organized military in January 1918, the Volunteer Army soon grew. The Kuban Cossacks joined the White Army, and conscription of both peasants and Cossacks began. In late February 1918, 4,000 soldiers under the command of General Aleksei Kaledin were forced to retreat from Rostov-on-Don due to the advance of the Red Army. In what became known as the Ice March, they traveled to Kuban in order to unite with the Kuban Cossacks (most of whom did not support the Volunteer Army.) In March, 3,000 men under the command of General Viktor Pokrovsky joined the Volunteer Army, increasing its membership to 6,000, and by June to 9,000. In 1919 the Don Cossacks joined the Army. In that year, between May and October, the Volunteer Army grew from 64,000 to 150,000 soldiers and was better supplied than its Red counterpart.[20] The White Army’s rank-and-file comprised active anti-Bolsheviks, such as Cossacks, nobles, and peasants, as conscripts and as volunteers.

White Russian Army Soldiers.jpg

The White movement had access to various naval forces, both seagoing and riverine, especially the Black Sea Fleet.

Aerial forces available to the Whites included the Slavo-British Aviation Corps (S.B.A.C.).[21] The Russian ace Alexander Kazakov operated within this unit.


The White movement’s leaders and first members[22] came mainly from the ranks of military officers. Many came from outside the nobility, such as generals Mikhail Alekseev and Anton Denikin (who originated in serf families) or General Lavr Kornilov (a Cossack).

The White generals never mastered administration;[23] they often utilized “prerevolutionary functionaries” or “military officers with monarchististic inclinations” for administering White-controlled regions.[24]

The White Armies were often lawless and disordered.[7] Also, White-controlled territories had multiple different and varying currencies with unstable exchange-rates. The chief currency, the Volunteer Army’s ruble, had no gold backing.[25]

White Army Cossack troops during the Russian Civil War 2.jpg

Theatres of operation

Russian civil war in the west 1918-1920

The Whites and the Reds fought the Russian Civil War from November 1917 until 1921, and isolated battles continued in the Far East until 1923. The White Army—aided by the Allied forces (Triple Entente) from countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and the United States and (sometimes) the Central Powers forces such as Germany and Austria-Hungary—fought in Siberia, Ukraine, and the Crimea. They were defeated by the Red Army due to military and ideological disunity, as well as the determination and increasing unity of the Red Army.

The White Army operated in three main theatres:

Southern front

In the summer of 1919 Denikin’s troops captured Kharkov

White organising in the South started on November 15, 1917, (Old Style) under General Mikhail Alekseev (1857–1918). In December 1917, General Lavr Kornilov took over the military command of the newly named Volunteer Army until his death in April 1918, after which General Anton Denikin took over, becoming head of the “Armed Forces of the South of Russia” in January 1919.

The Southern Front featured massive-scale operations and posed the most dangerous threat to the Bolshevik Government. At first it depended entirely upon volunteers in Russia proper, mostly the Cossacks (among the first to oppose the Bolshevik Government). On June 23, 1918, the Volunteer Army (8,000–9,000 men) began its so called Second Kuban Campaign with support from Pyotr Krasnov. By September, the Volunteer Army comprised 30,000 to 35,000 members, thanks to mobilization of the Kuban Cossacks gathered in the North Caucasus. Thus the Volunteer Army took the name of the Caucasus Volunteer Army. On January 23, 1919, the Volunteer Army under Denikin oversaw the defeat of the 11th Soviet Army and then captured the North Caucasus region. After capturing the Donbass, Tsaritsyn and Kharkov in June, Denikin’s forces surrounded Moscow on July 3, 1919, (N.S.). Plans envisaged 40,000 fighters under the command of General Vladimir May-Mayevsky storming the city.

In 1919, after General Denikin’s attack upon Moscow failed, the Armed Forces of the South of Russia retreated. On March 26 and March 27, 1920, the remnants of the Volunteer Army evacuated from Novorossiysk to the Crimea, where they merged with the army of Pyotr Wrangel.

White Army soldier in the Russian Civil War.jpg

White Army soldier in the Russian Civil War

Eastern (Siberian) front

The Eastern Front started in spring 1918, as a secret movement among army officers and right-wing socialist forces. In that front, they launched an attack in collaboration with the Czechoslovak Legions (then stranded in Siberia by the Bolshevik Government, who barred them from leaving Russia) and with the Japanese, who also intervened to help the Whites in the east. Admiral Alexander Kolchak headed the eastern White counter-revolutionary army and a provisional Russian government. Despite some significant success in 1919, the Whites were defeated being forced back to Far Eastern Russia, where they continued fighting until October 1922. When the Japanese withdrew, the Soviet army of the Far Eastern Republic retook the territory. The Civil War was officially declared over at this point, although Anatoly Pepelyayev still controlled the Ayano-Maysky District at that time. Pepelyayev’s Yakut revolt, which concluded on June 16, 1923, represented the last military action in Russia by a White Army. It ended with the defeat of the final anti-communist enclave in the country, signalling the end of all military hostilities relating to the Russian Civil War.

Russian White Army.jpg

Northern and Northwestern fronts

Headed by Nikolai Yudenich, Evgeni Miller, and Anatoly Lieven, the White forces in the North demonstrated less co-ordination than General Denikin’s Army of Southern Russia. The Northwestern Army allied itself with Estonia, while Lieven’s West Russian Volunteer Army sided with the Baltic nobility. Adventurers led by Pavel Bermondt-Avalov and Stanisław Bułak-Bałachowicz played a role as well. The most notable operation on this front, Operation White Sword, saw an unsuccessful advance towards the Russian capital of Petrograd in the autumn of 1919.

White Army Russians.jpg
Kuban cossacks


Kuban People’s Republic

The Kuban People’s Republic (Russian: Кубанская Народная Республика Kubanskaya Narodnaya Respublika; Ukrainian: Кубанська Народна Республiка Kubans’ka Narodna Respublika) was an anti-Bolshevik state during the Russian Civil War, comprising the territory of the modern-day Kuban region in Russia.

The republic was proclaimed by the Kuban Rada on 28 January 1918, and declared its independence on 16 February. It would include all territory of the former Kuban Oblast of the Russian Empire. During its brief independence, it sought union with the Ukrainian People’s Republic until the latter was occupied by Soviet forces. The Kuban People’s Republic was crushed 7 November 1919, having existed for 21 months.

The British Library's rarely-seen Russian Revolution propaganda posters.jpg

The British Library’s rarely-seen Russian Revolution propaganda posters

Russian peasants bring a red Trojan Horse.jpg

In this anti-Bolshevik cartoon from early 1918, published by the German satirical magazine Simplicissimus, two Russian peasants bring a red Trojan Horse, packed with armed revolutionaries, into the very centre of Berlin. Kriegs Flugblätter des Simplicissimus War pamphlets from Simplicissimus magazine, vol. 22, no. 47, 19 February 1918 Munich, Germany 

Post-Civil War

Blagoveshchensky Temple, a Russian Orthodox church in Harbin, China
Russia, 1918, anti-Bolshevik.jpg
Russian White Army, 1918, Anti-Bolshevik Propaganda Poster
The Crist is Rizen
Old Russian Civil War Poster

The defeated anti-Bolshevik Russians went into exile, congregating in Belgrade, Berlin, Paris, Harbin, Istanbul, and Shanghai. They established military and cultural networks that lasted through the Second World War (1939–45), e.g., the Russian community in Harbin and the Russian community in Shanghai). Afterward, the White Russians’ anti-Communist activists established a home base in the United States, where numerous refugees immigrated.

Emblem used by white émigré volunteers in the Spanish Civil War

Moreover, in the 1920s and the 1930s, the White Movement established organisations outside Russia, which were meant to depose the Soviet Government with guerrilla warfare, e.g., the Russian All-Military Union, the Brotherhood of Russian Truth, and the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists, a far-right anticommunist organization founded in 1930 by a group of young White emigres in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Some white émigrés adopted pro-Soviet sympathies and were termed “Soviet patriots”. These people formed organizations such as the Mladorossi, the Eurasianists, and the Smenovekhovtsy. A Russian cadet corps was established to prepare the next generation of anti-Communists for the “spring campaign”—a hopeful term denoting a renewed military campaign to reconquer Russia from the Soviet Government. In any event, many cadets volunteered to fight for the Russian Corps during the Second World War, when some White Russians participated in the Russian Liberation Movement.[26]

After the war, active anti-Soviet combat was almost exclusively continued by the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists: other organizations either dissolved, or began concentrating exclusively on self-preservation and/or educating the youth. Various youth organizations, such as the Russian Scouts-in-Exteris became functional in raising children with a background in pre-Soviet Russian culture and heritage.

Some supported Zog I of Albania during the 1920s, and a few independently served with the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. White Russians also served alongside the Soviet Red Army during the Soviet invasion of Xinjiang and the Islamic rebellion in Xinjiang in 1937.

White Russian Army with Flag.jpg

Anton Ivanovich Denikin.jpg

Anton Ivanovich Denikin

Anton Ivanovich Denikin (Russian: Анто́н Ива́нович Дени́кин, IPA: [ɐnˈton ɪˈvanəvʲɪtɕ dʲɪˈnʲikʲɪn]; 16 December [O.S. 4 December] 1872 – 8 August 1947) was a Russian Lieutenant General in the Imperial Russian Army (1916) and afterwards a leading general of the White movement in the Russian Civil War.

Civil War

Denikin in 1915

A temporary takeover of the Tsaritsyn (present-day Volgograd) by Denikin’s troops in July 1919

Following the October Revolution both Denikin and Kornilov escaped to Novocherkassk in the Northern Caucasus and, with other Tsarist officers, formed the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army, initially commanded by Alekseev. Kornilov was killed in April 1918 near Ekaterinodar and the Volunteer Army came under Denikin’s command. There was some sentiment to place Grand Duke Nicholas in overall command but Denikin was not interested in sharing power. In the face of a Communist counter-offensive he withdrew his forces back towards the Don area in what came to be known as the Ice March. After that, in June-November 1918 , Denikin launched the highly successful Second Kuban Campaign which gave him control of the entire area between the Black and Caspian Sea.

In the summer of 1919, Denikin led the assault of the southern White forces in their final push to capture Moscow . For a time, it appeared that the White Army would succeed in its drive; Leon Trotsky, as the supreme commander of the Red Army, hastily concluded an agreement with Nestor Makhno‘s anarchist Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (the ‘Black Army’) for mutual support. Makhno duly turned his Black Army east and led it against Denikin’s extended lines of supply, forcing the Whites to retreat. Denikin’s army would be decisively defeated at Orel in October 1919, some 400 km south of Moscow.[citation needed] The White forces in southern Russia would be in constant retreat thereafter, eventually reaching the Crimea in March 1920. Meanwhile, the Soviet government immediately tore up its agreement with Makhno and attacked his anarchist forces. After a seesaw series of battles in which both sides gained ground, Trotsky’s more numerous and better equipped Red Army troops decisively defeated and dispersed Makhno’s Black Army.

In the summer of 1919 Denikin’s troops captured Kharkiv
Red Scare Skeleton Death.jpg

Anti-Semitism and Anti-Masonry

White Russian anti-Bolshevik propaganda poster, c. 1919. Senior Bolsheviks – Sverdlov, Zinoviev, Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, Radek – sacrifice an allegorical character representing Russia to a statue of Karl Marx.

During the Russian Civil War, an estimated 50,000 Jews perished in pogroms. Ukrainian forces, nominally under the control of Symon Petliura, perpetrated approximately 40 percent of the recorded pogroms (although Petliura never ordered his forces to engage in such activity and eventually exhorted his troops to refrain from the violence[1]).The White Army is associated with 17 percent of the attacks, and was generally responsible for the most active propaganda campaign against Jews, whom they openly associated with communism[2][3]. The Red Army is blamed for 9 percent of the pogroms.

In the territories it occupied, Denikin’s army carried out mass executions and plunder, in what was later known as the White Terror. In the town of Maykop in Circassia during September 1918, more than 4,000 people were massacred by General Pokrovsky’s forces.[4] In the small town of Fastov alone, Denikin’s Volunteer Army murdered over 1,500 Jews, mostly elderly, women, and children.[citation needed]

The press of the Denikin regime regularly incited violence against communist Jews and Jews seen as communists in the context of treason committed by Red agents. For example, a proclamation by one of Denikin’s generals incited people to “arm themselves” in order to extirpate “the evil force which lives in the hearts of Jew-communists.”[5]

Religious and faithful to the Russian Orthodox Church, Denikin did not criticise the pogroms against the Jewish population until the end of 1919. Denikin believed that most people had reasons to hate Jews and wished to avoid an issue that divided his officers. Many of them, intensely anti-Semitic, allowed pogroms under their watch, which turned into a method of terror against the Jewish population and served to earn the favour of the Ukrainian people for much of 1919.

Western sponsors were dismayed at the widespread antisemitism in the Whites’ officer ranks, especially as the Bolsheviks sought to officially prohibit acts of anti-Semitism. Winston Churchill personally warned General Denikin that:

[M]y task in winning support in Parliament for the Russian Nationalist cause will be infinitely harder if well-authenticated complaints continue to be received from Jews in the zone of the Volunteer Armies.[6]

John Ernest Hodgson, a British war correspondent with Denikin’s forces, said the following of Denikin’s and his officers’ antisemitism:

I had not been with Denikin more than a month before I was forced to the conclusion that the Jew represented a very big element in the Russian upheaval. The officers and men of the Army laid practically all the blame for their country’s troubles on the Hebrew. They held that the whole cataclysm had been engineered by some great and mysterious secret society of international Jews, who, in the pay and at the orders of Germany, had seized the psychological moment and snatched the reins of government. All the figures and facts that were then available appeared to lend colour to this contention. No less than 82 per cent of the Bolshevik Commissars were known to be Jews, the fierce and implacable ‘Trotsky,’ who shared office with Lenin, being a Yiddisher whose real name was Bronstein. Among Denikin’s officers this idea was an obsession of such terrible bitterness and insistency as to lead them into making statements of the wildest and most fantastic character. Many of them had persuaded themselves that Freemasonry was, in alliance with the Jews, part and parcel of the Bolshevik machine, and that what they had called the diabolical schemes for Russia’s downfall had been hatched in the Petrograd and Moscow Masonic lodges. When I told them that I and most of my best friends were Freemasons, and that England owed a great deal to its loyal Jews, they stared at me askance and sadly shook their heads in fear for England’s credulity in trusting the chosen race. One even asked me quietly whether I personally was a Jew. When America showed herself decidedly against any kind of interference in Russia, the idea soon gained wide credence that President Woodrow Wilson was a Jew, while Mr. Lloyd George was referred to as a Jew whenever a cable from England appeared to show him as being lukewarm in support of the anti-Bolsheviks.

Lenin, Trotsky and Bolsheviks sacrificing Christian woman on altar.jpg

White Russian anti-Bolshevik propaganda poster, c. 1919. Senior Bolsheviks – Sverdlov, Zinoviev, Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, Radek – sacrifice an allegorical character representing Russia to a statue of Karl Marx.


Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak

Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak CB (Russian: Алекса́ндр Васи́льевич Колча́к, 16 November [O.S. 4 November] 1874 – 7 February 1920) was an Imperial Russian admiral, military leader and polar explorer who served in the Imperial Russian Navy, who fought in the Russo-Japanese War and the First World War. During the Russian Civil War, he established an anti-communist government in Siberia—later the Provisional All-Russian Government—and was recognised as the “Supreme Leader and Commander-in-Chief of All Russian Land and Sea Forces” by the other leaders of the White movement from 1918 to 1920.[1] His government was based in Omsk, in southwestern Siberia.

For 2 years, Kolchak was Russia’s internationally recognized head of state.[2] However, his effort to unite the White Movement failed; Kolchak refused to consider autonomy for ethnic minorities and refused to cooperate with non-Bolshevik leftists, heavily relying on outside aid. Relying on such only boosted Red morale due to Kolchak being seen as a “Western Puppet”. As his White forces fell apart, he was betrayed and captured by the Czechoslovak Legion who handed him over to local Socialists-Revolutionaries, soon resulting in Bolsheviks executing him.

Russian Civil War

The Bolshevik revolution found Kolchak in Japan and then Harbin in November 1917.[1] As a supporter of the Provisional Government, he returned to Russia, through Vladivostok, in 1918. Kolchak was an absolute supporter of the Allied cause against Imperial Germany and regarded Russia’s immediate withdrawal from the conflict as dishonorable.[7] Upon hearing of the October Revolution, Kolchak offered to enlist in the British Army to continue the struggle.[7] The British were inclined to accept Kolchak’s offer, and there were indeed plans to send Kolchak to Mesopotamia (modern Iraq).[7] Ultimately, the British Foreign Office decided that Kolchak could do more for the Allied cause by toppling Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks and bringing Russia back into the war on the side of the Allies.[7] Reluctantly, Kolchak accepted the British suggestions and with a heavy sense of foreboding returned to Russia.[7] Kolchak arrived in Manchuria and was placed in charge of security for the Russian-owned Chinese Eastern Railroad.[7] Arriving in Omsk, Siberia, en route to enlisting with the Volunteer Army, he agreed to become a minister in the (White) Siberian Regional Government. Joining a 14-man cabinet, he was a prestige figure; the government hoped to play on the respect he had with the Allies, especially the head of the British military mission, General Alfred Knox. Knox wrote that Kolchak had “more grit, pluck and honest patriotism than any Russian in Siberia”.


Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel

Baron Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel, also Vrangel; German: Freiherr Peter von Wrangel; (August 27, 1878  – April 25, 1928) was a Russian officer in the Imperial Russian Army and later commanding general of the anti-Bolshevik White Army in Southern Russia in the later stages of the Russian Civil War. After his side lost the civil war in 1920, he left Russia and became one of the most prominent exiled White émigrés.

Russian Civil War

Following the end of Russia’s participation in the war, Wrangel resigned his commission and went to live at his dacha at Yalta in the Crimea. Arrested by the Bolsheviks at the end of 1917, he was released and escaped to Kiev, where he joined Pavlo Skoropadskyi‘s Ukrainian State. However, it was soon apparent to him that the new government existed only through the waning support of Germany, and in August 1918, he joined the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army based at Yekaterinodar, where he was given command of the 1st Cavalry Division and the rank of major general in the White movement. After the Second Kuban Campaign in late 1918, he was promoted to lieutenant general, and his Division was raised to that of a corps.

As an aggressive commander, he won a number of victories in the north Caucasus. From January 1919, his military force was renamed the Caucasus Volunteer Army. Wrangel soon clashed politically with Armed Forces of South Russia leader Anton Denikin, who demanded a quick march on Moscow. Wrangel insisted instead that his forces should take Tsaritsyn first, to join up with the army of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, which his troops accomplished on June 30, 1919 after three previous attempts by Pyotr Krasnov had failed in 1918.

The Government of South Russia established in Sevastopol, Crimea in April 1920

Wrangel gained a reputation as a skilled and just administrator, who, in contrast to some other White Army generals, did not tolerate lawlessness or looting by his troops.[2] However, after he was unable to join forces with Admiral Kolchak and at the insistence of Denikin, he led his forces north towards Moscow on a failed attempt by the Whites to take the capital in November 1919. Continuing disagreement with Denikin led to his removal from command, and Wrangel departed for exile to Constantinople on February 8, 1920.

Yet Denikin was forced to resign on March 20, 1920 and a military committee led by General Abram Dragomirov in Sevastopol asked that Wrangel return as Commander-in-Chief of the White forces in Crimea. He assumed the post on April 4, 1920 and put forth a coalition government which attempted to institute sweeping reforms (including land reforms).[3] He also recognized and established relations with the new (and short lived) anti-Bolshevik independent republics of Ukraine and Georgia, among others.[citation needed] However, by this stage in the Russian Civil War, such measures were too late, and the White movement was rapidly losing support both domestically and overseas. Wrangel is immortalized by the nickname of “Black Baron” in the marching song The Red Army is the Strongest composed as a rallying call for a final effort on the part of the Bolsheviks to end the war; the song became immensely popular in the early Soviet Union during the 1920s.

At a prayer vigil upon accepting command.

After defeats in which he lost half his standing army, and facing defeat in Northern Tavria and the Crimea, Wrangel organized a mass evacuation on the shores of the Black Sea.[4] Wrangel gave every officer, soldier, and civilian the choice to evacuate and go with him into the unknown, or remain in Russia and face the wrath of the Red Army.[citation needed] Wrangel evacuated the White forces from the Crimea in 1920 in remnants of the Russian Imperial Navy that became known as Wrangel’s fleet. The last military and civilian personnel left Russia with Wrangel on board the General Kornilov on November 14,[citation needed] 1920.

Initially, Wrangel lived on his yacht Lucullus at Constantinople, which was rammed and sunk by the Italian steamer Adria, which had sailed from Soviet-held Batum. Wrangel, who was on shore at the time, escaped with his life in what was widely regarded as an assassination attempt.

In 1922, he moved to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes as the head of all Russian refugees, and arguably became the most prominent of all exiled White emigres. In 1924, in the Serbian town of Sremski Karlovci he established the Russian All-Military Union, an ostensibly non-military organization designed to embrace all Russian military émigrés the world over[5] with a view to preserving a Russian military organisation for the eventuality of having to fight Bolshevism again.[6]

In September 1927, Wrangel and his family settled in Brussels, Belgium, where he worked as a mining engineer.

Wrangel’s memoirs were published in the magazine White Cause (Белое дело) in Berlin in 1928.

Death and burial

Wrangel, Metropolitan Anthony, Metropolitan Anastasius and other Russian émigrés in Yugoslavia, 1927

Wrangel died suddenly on 25 April 1928, and Wrangel’s family believed that he had been poisoned by his butler’s brother, who lived in the Wrangel household in Brussels briefly and was allegedly a Soviet agent.[7]

Pyotr Wrangel’s burial took place in Brussels; however, more than a year later, on 6 October 1929, his body was brought to Belgrade, where in a solemn public ceremony it was re-interred in the Russian church in Belgrade, in accordance with his wishes.[8]

The town of Sremski Karlovci, which served as his headquarters and was at the time of his death the location of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Russian Ministry of Culture, erected a monument in his honour.[9]


Grigory Mikhaylovich Semyonov

Grigory Mikhaylovich Semyonov, or Semenov (Russian: Григо́рий Миха́йлович Семёнов; September 13 (25), 1890 – August 30, 1946), was a Japanese-supported leader of the White movement in Transbaikal and beyond from December 1917 to November 1920, Lieutenant General and Ataman of Baikal Cossacks (1919).

The Russian Civil War in Transbaikal

After the October Revolution Semyonov stirred up an anti-Soviet rebellion, but was defeated and fled to the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin.[5] In August 1918 he managed to consolidate his positions in the Transbaikal region with the help of the Czechoslovak Legions and imposed his ruthless regime. In his rule over this region, he has been described as a “plain bandit [who] drew his income from holding up trains and forcing payments, no matter what the nature of the load nor for whose benefit it was being shipped.”[6] As a part Buryat Mongol, Ataman Semyonov declared a “Great Mongol State” in 1918 and had designs to unify the Oirat Mongol lands, portions of Xinjiang, Transbaikal, Inner Mongolia, Outer Mongolia, Tannu Uriankhai, Kobdo, Hulunbei’er and Tibet into one Mongolian state.[7] The White Siberian Provisional Government appointed Semyonov commander of a detached unit with headquarters in Chita. Initially Adm. Aleksandr Kolchak refused to recognize Semyonov’s authority, but he had no choice and had to accept Semyonov as de facto leader and confirm him as Commander-in-Chief of the Chita military district. In early 1919 Semyonov declared himself Ataman of the Transbaikal Cossack Host with support from the Imperial Japanese Army, elements of which had been deployed to Siberia. The region under his control extended from Verkhne-Udinsk near Lake Baikal to the Shilka River and the town of Stretensk, to Manzhouli, where the Chinese Eastern Railway met the Chita Railway, and northeast some distance along the Amur Railway.[8]

Semyonov handed out copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the Japanese troops he became associated with.[9] In February 1919 it was said that he allowed a Jewish unit to form in his Cossack-dominated army. His most illustrious mistress and partner was a Jewish cabaret singer named Mashka Sharaban.[10]

Cossacks on the march, Russian Civil War.jpg

Cossacks on the march, Russian Civil War

After the fall of Kolchak’s Siberian government, the admiral transferred power to Semyonov in the Far East. However, Semyonov was unable to keep his forces in Siberia under control: they stole, burned, murdered and raped, and developed a reputation for being little better than thugs.[11] In July 1920 the Japanese Expeditionary Corps started a limited withdrawal in accordance with the Gongota Agreement signed with the Far Eastern Republic, undermining support for Semyonov. Transbaikal partisans, internationalists and the 5th Soviet Army under Genrich Eiche launched an operation to retake Chita. In October 1920 units of the Red Army and guerrillas forced Semyonov’s tiny army out of the Baikal region. After having retreated to Primorye, Semyonov tried to continue fighting the Soviets, but was finally forced to abandon all Russian territory by September 1921.

Lavr Kornilov.jpg

Lavr Georgiyevich Kornilov

Lavr Georgiyevich Kornilov (Russian: Лавр Гео́ргиевич Корни́лов, IPA: [ˈɫavr kɐrˈnʲiɫəf]; 18 August 1870 – 13 April 1918) was a Russian military intelligence officer, explorer, and general of Siberian Cossack origin in the Imperial Russian Army during World War I and the ensuing Russian Civil War. He is today best remembered for the Kornilov Affair, an unsuccessful endeavor in August/September 1917 that was intended to strengthen Alexander Kerensky‘s Provisional Government, but which led to Kerensky eventually having Kornilov arrested and charged with attempting a coup d’état, and ultimately undermined Kerensky’s rule.[1]

Kornilov escaped from jail in November 1917, and subsequently became the military commander of the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army. He and his troops were badly outnumbered in many of their encounters, and he was killed by a shell on 13 April 1918 while laying siege to Ekaterinodar, the capital of the Kuban Soviet Republic.

Russian Civil War

After the alleged coup collapsed as his troops disintegrated, Kornilov and his fellow conspirators were placed under arrest in the Bykhov jail. On 19 November, a few weeks after the proclamation of Soviet power in Petrograd, they escaped from their confinement (eased by the fact that the jail was guarded by Kornilov’s supporters) and made their way to the Don region, which was controlled by the Don Cossacks. Here they linked up with General Mikhail Alekseev. Kornilov became the military commander of the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army with Alekseev as the political chief.[8]

Even before the Red Army was formed, Lavr Kornilov promised, “the greater the terror, the greater our victories.” He vowed that the goals of his forces must be fulfilled even if it was needed “to set fire to half the country and shed the blood of three-quarters of all Russians.”[9] In the Don region village of Lezhanka alone, bands of Kornilov’s officers killed more than 500 people.[10]

On 24 February 1918, as Rostov and the Don Cossack capital of Novocherkassk fell to the Bolsheviks, Kornilov led the Volunteer Army on the epic ‘Ice March‘ into the empty steppe towards the Kuban. Although badly outnumbered, he escaped destruction from pursuing Bolshevik forces and laid siege to Ekaterinodar, the capital of the Kuban Soviet Republic, on 10 April. However, in the early morning of 13 April, a Soviet shell landed on his farmhouse headquarters and killed him. He was buried in a nearby village.

A few days later, when the Bolsheviks gained control of the village, they unearthed Kornilov’s coffin, dragged his corpse to the main square and burnt his remains on the local rubbish dump.[11]

The Kornilov Division, one of the crack units of the White Army, was named after him, as well as many other autonomous White Army formations, such as the Kuban Cossack Kornilov Horse Regiment. The Kornilov Division became recognizable for its Totenkopf insignia, which appears on the division’s flags, pennants, and soldiers’ sleeve patches.

Before fleeing the Red Army, Whites torch the grain.jpg

Before fleeing the Red Army, Whites torch the grain

Red Army

Communist star.svg
Active 15 January 1918 – 25 February 1946
Country  Soviet Union
Allegiance Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Type Army
Role Land warfare
Engagements World War I
Russian Civil War
Polish–Soviet War
Soviet–Japanese border conflicts
Soviet invasion of Poland
Winter War
Eastern Front (World War II)
Soviet invasion of Manchuria




Red Army Flag

Red Army Soldier Political Poster 1918-1921.jpg

Red Army Soldier Political Poster 1918-1921

This special issue of the Red Army magazine Krasnoarmeets (The Red Army Soldier) was published in 1921 Moscow, Russia and is dedicated to the third anniversary of the Red Army.

Red Army

The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army (Russian: Рабоче-крестьянская Красная армия (РККА), Raboche-krest’yanskaya Krasnaya armiya (RKKA), frequently shortened in Russian to Красная aрмия (КА), Krasnaya armiya (KA), in English: Red Army, also in critical literature and folklore of that epoch – Red Horde,[1] Army of Work) was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution (Red October or Bolshevik Revolution). The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations (especially the various groups collectively known as the White Army) of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of “Soviet Army“, until its dissolution in December 1991.

Russian Civil War Red Army.jpg

The Red Army is credited as being the decisive land force in the Allied victory in the European theatre of World War II, and its invasion of Manchuria contributed heavily to the ultimate unconditional surrender of Imperial Japan. During operations on the Eastern Front, it accounted for 75–80% of casualties the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS suffered during the war and ultimately captured the Nazi German capital, Berlin.[2]


In September 1917, Vladimir Lenin wrote: “There is only one way to prevent the restoration of the police, and that is to create a people’s militia and to fuse it with the army (the standing army to be replaced by the arming of the entire people).”[3] At the time, the Imperial Russian Army had started to collapse. Approximately 23% (about 19 million) of the male population of the Russian Empire were mobilized; however, most of them were not equipped with any weapons and had support roles such as maintaining the lines of communication and the base areas. The Tsarist general Nikolay Dukhonin estimated that there had been 2 million deserters, 1.8 million dead, 5 million wounded and 2 million prisoners. He estimated the remaining troops as numbering 10 million.[4]

Red Guards unit of the Vulkan factory

While the Imperial Russian Army was being taken apart, “it became apparent that the rag-tag Red Guard units and elements of the imperial army who had gone over the side of the Bolsheviks were quite inadequate to the task of defending the new government against external foes.” Therefore, the Council of People’s Commissars decided to form the Red Army on 28 January 1918.[a] They envisioned a body “formed from the class-conscious and best elements of the working classes.” All citizens of the Russian republic aged 18 or older were eligible. Its role being the defense “of the Soviet authority, the creation of a basis for the transformation of the standing army into a force deriving its strength from a nation in arms, and, furthermore, the creation of a basis for the support of the coming Socialist Revolution in Europe.” Enlistment was conditional upon “guarantees being given by a military or civil committee functioning within the territory of the Soviet Power, or by party or trade union committees or, in extreme cases, by two persons belonging to one of the above organizations.” In the event of an entire unit wanting to join the Red Army, a “collective guarantee and the affirmative vote of all its members would be necessary.” [5][6] Because the Red Army was composed mainly of peasants, the families of those who served were guaranteed rations and assistance with farm work.[7] Some peasants who remained at home yearned to join the Army; men, along with some women, flooded the recruitment centres. If they were turned away they would collect scrap metal and prepare care-packages. In some cases the money they earned would go towards tanks for the Army.[8]

Guerra civil Rusa 1918-1922. Ejercito Rojo.jpg

The Council of People’s Commissars appointed itself the supreme head of the Red Army, delegating command and administration of the army to the Commissariat for Military Affairs and the Special All-Russian College within this commissariat.[5] Nikolai Krylenko was the supreme commander-in-chief, with Aleksandr Myasnikyan as deputy.[9] Nikolai Podvoisky became the commissar for war, Pavel Dybenko, commissar for the fleet. Proshyan, Samoisky, Steinberg were also specified as people’s commissars as well as Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich from the Bureau of Commissars. At a joint meeting of Bolsheviks and Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, held on 22 February 1918, Krylenko remarked: “We have no army. The demoralized soldiers are fleeing, panic-stricken, as soon as they see a German helmet appear on the horizon, abandoning their artillery, convoys and all war material to the triumphantly advancing enemy. The Red Guard units are brushed aside like flies. We have no power to stay the enemy; only an immediate signing of the peace treaty will save us from destruction.”[5]

Introduction The Russian Revolution of 1917.jpg

The Russian Revolution of 1917


Russian Civil War


Military Rank insignia of the Red Army, 1919–1924

The Russian Civil War (1917–1923) occurred in three periods:

  1. October 1917 – November 1918: From the Bolshevik Revolution to the First World War Armistice, developed from the Bolshevik government’s nationalization of traditional Cossack lands in November 1917.[citation needed] This provoked the insurrection of General Alexey Maximovich Kaledin‘s Volunteer Army in the River Don region. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) aggravated Russian internal politics. The situation encouraged direct Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, in which twelve foreign countries supported anti-Bolshevik militias. A series of engagements resulted, involving, amongst others, the Czechoslovak Legion, the Polish 5th Rifle Division, and the pro-Bolshevik Red Latvian Riflemen.
  2. January 1919 – November 1919: Initially the White armies successfully advanced: from the south, under General Anton Denikin; from the east, under Admiral Aleksandr Vasilevich Kolchak; and from the northwest, under General Nikolai Nikolaevich Yudenich. The Whites defeated the Red Army on each front. Leon Trotsky reformed and counterattacked: the Red Army repelled Admiral Kolchak’s army in June, and the armies of General Denikin and General Yudenich in October.[10] By mid-November the White armies were all almost completely exhausted. In January 1920, Budenny‘s First Cavalry Army entered Rostov-on-Don.
  3. 1919 to 1923: Some peripheral battles continued for two more years, and remnants of the White forces continued in the Far East into 1923.

Soviet troops.jpg

At the start of the war, the Red Army consisted of 299 infantry regiments.[11] Civil war intensified after Lenin dissolved the Russian Constituent Assembly (5–6 January 1918) and the Soviet government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (3 March 1918), removing Russia from the Great War. Free from international war, the Red Army confronted an internecine war against a loose alliance of anti-Communist forces, comprising the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, the “Black Army” led by Nestor Makhno, the anti-White and anti-Red Green armies, and others. “Red Army Day”, 23 February 1918, has a two-fold historical significance: it was the first day of drafting recruits (in Petrograd and Moscow), and the first day of combat against the occupying Imperial German Army.[12][b]

Red Army veterans, Russian Civil War.jpg

Red Army veterans, Russian Civil War

On 6 September 1918 the Bolshevik militias consolidated under the supreme command of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic – Russian: Революционну Военну Совет, translit. Revolyutsionny Voyenny Sovyet (Revvoyensoviet). The first Chairman was Leon Trotsky. The first commander-in-chief was Jukums Vācietis from the Latvian Riflemen; in July 1919 he was replaced by Sergey Kamenev. Soon afterwards Trotsky established the GRU (military intelligence) to provide political and military intelligence to Red Army commanders.[13] Trotsky founded the Red Army with an initial Red Guard organization, and a core soldiery of Red Guard militiamen and Chekist secret police.[14] Conscription began in June 1918,[15] and opposition to it was violently suppressed.[16][page needed] To control the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Red Army soldiery, the Cheka operated special punitive brigades which suppressed anti-communists, deserters, and “enemies of the state”.[13][17] Wartime pragmatism allowed the recruitment of ex-Tsarist officers and sergeants (non-commissioned officers, NCOs) into the Red Army.[18] Lev Glezarov’s special commission recruited and screened them.[citation needed] By mid-August 1920 the Red Army’s former Tsarist personnel included 48,000 officers, 10,300 administrators, and 214,000 NCOs.[19] At the civil war’s start, ex-Tsarists made up 75% of the Red Army officer-corps,[20][page needed] who were employed as military specialists (voenspetsy, ru:Военный советник).[21] The Bolsheviks occasionally enforced the loyalty of such recruits by holding their families as hostages.[20][page needed] At war’s end in 1922, ex-Tsarists constituted 83% of the Red Army’s divisional and corps commanders.[21]

The Red Army used special regiments for ethnic minorities, such as the Dungan Cavalry Regiment commanded by the Dungan Magaza Masanchi.[22] The Red Army also co-operated with armed Bolshevik Party-oriented volunteer units, the Части особого назначения – ЧОН (special task units – chasti osobogo naznacheniya – or ChON) from 1919 to 1925.[23]

The slogan “exhortation, organization, and reprisals” expressed the discipline and motivation which helped ensure the Red Army’s tactical and strategic success. On campaign, the attached Cheka Special Punitive Brigades conducted summary field courts-martial and executions of deserters and slackers.[17][24] Under Commissar Jānis K. Bērziņš the Special Punitive Brigades took hostages from the villages of deserters to compel their surrender; one in ten of those returning was executed. The same tactic also suppressed peasant rebellions in areas controlled by the Red Army, the biggest of these being the Tambov Rebellion.[25] The Soviets enforced the loyalty of the various political, ethnic, and national groups in the Red Army through political commissars attached at the brigade and regimental levels. The commissars also had the task of spying on commanders for political incorrectness.[26] Political commissars whose Chekist detachments retreated or broke in the face of the enemy earned the death penalty.[citation needed] In August 1918, Trotsky authorized General Mikhail Tukhachevsky to place blocking units behind politically unreliable Red Army units, to shoot anyone who retreated without permission.[27] In 1942, during the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945) Joseph Stalin reintroduced the blocking policy. He also introduced penal battalions.

The Red Army controlled by the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic invaded and annexed non-Russian lands helping to create the Soviet Union.[28]

Photograph of Leon Trotsky in 1929.jpg

Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky (/ˈtrɒtski/;[1][a] born Lev Davidovich Bronstein;[b] 7 November [O.S. 26 October] 1879 – 21 August 1940) was a Russian revolutionary, theorist, and Soviet politician. Ideologically a Marxist and a Leninist, he later developed his own version of Marxism, Trotskyism.

Initially supporting the Menshevik Internationalists faction within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, he joined the Bolsheviks (“majority”) just before the 1917 October Revolution, immediately becoming a leader within the Communist Party. He would go on to become one of the seven members of the first Politburo, founded in 1917 to manage the Bolshevik Revolution.[2]

During the early days of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and the Soviet Union, he served first as People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs and later as the founder and commander of the Red Army, with the title of People’s Commissar of Military and Naval Affairs. He became a major figure in the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War (1918–22).

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Anti-Communism Poster depicting Leon Trotsky as a Monsterous Bloody Red Troll

White Army propaganda poster depicting Trotsky as Satan wearing a Pentagram, and portraying the Bolsheviks’ Chinese supporters as mass murderers. The caption reads, “Peace and Liberty in Sovdepiya“.

Head of the Red Army (spring 1918)

Leon Trotsky speaks from the Armored Train, Russian Civil War

The failure of the recently formed Red Army to resist the German offensive in February 1918 revealed its weaknesses: insufficient numbers, lack of knowledgeable officers, and near absence of coordination and subordination. Celebrated and feared Baltic Fleet sailors, one of the bastions of the new regime led by Pavel Dybenko, fled from the German army at Narva. The notion that the Soviet state could have an effective voluntary or militia type military was seriously undermined.[citation needed]

Trotsky was one of the first Bolshevik leaders to recognize the problem, and he pushed for the formation of a military council of former Russian generals that would function as an advisory body. Lenin and the Bolshevik Central Committee agreed on 4 March to create the Supreme Military Council, headed by former chief of the imperial General Staff Mikhail Bonch-Bruevich.[citation needed]

The entire Bolshevik leadership of the Red Army, including People’s Commissar (defense minister) Nikolai Podvoisky and commander-in-chief Nikolai Krylenko, protested vigorously and eventually resigned. They believed that the Red Army should consist only of dedicated revolutionaries, rely on propaganda and force, and have elected officers. They viewed former imperial officers and generals as potential traitors who should be kept out of the new military, much less put in charge of it. Their views continued to be popular with many Bolsheviks throughout most of the Russian Civil War, and their supporters, including Podvoisky, who became one of Trotsky’s deputies, were a constant thorn in Trotsky’s side. The discontent with Trotsky’s policies of strict discipline, conscription and reliance on carefully supervised non-Communist military experts eventually led to the Military Opposition (Russian: Военная оппозиция), which was active within the Communist Party in late 1918–1919.[63]

On 13 March 1918, Trotsky’s resignation as Commissar for Foreign Affairs was officially accepted, and he was appointed People’s Commissar of Army and Navy Affairs – in place of Podvoisky – and chairman of the Supreme Military Council. The post of commander-in-chief was abolished, and Trotsky gained full control of the Red Army, responsible only to the Communist Party leadership, whose Left Socialist Revolutionary allies had left the government over Brest-Litovsk.[citation needed]

With the help of his deputy Ephraim Sklyansky, Trotsky spent the rest of the Civil War transforming the Red Army from a ragtag network of small and fiercely independent detachments into a large and disciplined military machine, through forced conscription, party-controlled blocking squads, compulsory obedience and officers chosen by the leadership instead of the rank and file. He defended these positions throughout his life.[citation needed]

Civil War (1918–1920)


The military situation soon tested Trotsky’s managerial and organization-building skills. In May–June 1918, the Czechoslovak Legions en route from European Russia to Vladivostok rose against the Soviet government. This left the Bolsheviks with the loss of most of the country’s territory, an increasingly well-organized resistance by Russian anti-Communist forces (usually referred to as the White Army after their best-known component) and widespread defection by the military experts whom Trotsky relied on.[citation needed]

Trotsky and the government responded with a full-fledged mobilization, which increased the size of the Red Army from fewer than 300,000 in May 1918 to one million in October, and an introduction of political commissars into the army. The latter had the task of ensuring the loyalty of military experts (mostly former officers in the imperial army) and co-signing their orders. Trotsky regarded the organization of the Red Army as built on the ideas of the October Revolution. As he later wrote in his autobiography:[64]

An army cannot be built without reprisals. Masses of men cannot be led to death unless the army command has the death-penalty in its arsenal. So long as those malicious tailless apes that are so proud of their technical achievements—the animals that we call men—will build armies and wage wars, the command will always be obliged to place the soldiers between the possible death in the front and the inevitable one in the rear. And yet armies are not built on fear. The Tsar’s army fell to pieces not because of any lack of reprisals. In his attempt to save it by restoring the death-penalty, Kerensky only finished it. Upon the ashes of the great war, the Bolsheviks created a new army. These facts demand no explanation for any one who has even the slightest knowledge of the language of history. The strongest cement in the new army was the ideas of the October revolution, and the train supplied the front with this cement.

In response to Fanya Kaplan‘s failed assassination of Lenin on 30 August 1918, and to the successful assassination of the Petrograd Cheka chief Moisei Uritsky on 17 August 1918, the Bolsheviks instructed Felix Dzerzhinsky to commence a Red Terror, announced in the 1 September 1918 issue of the Krasnaya Gazeta (Red Gazette).[65] Regarding the Red Terror Trotsky wrote:

The bourgeoisie today is a falling class… We are forced to tear it off, to chop it away. The Red Terror is a weapon utilized against a class, doomed to destruction, which does not wish to perish. If the White Terror can only retard the historical rise of the proletariat, the Red Terror hastens the destruction of the bourgeoisie.[66]

In dealing with deserters, Trotsky often appealed to them politically, arousing them with the ideas of the Revolution.

In the provinces of Kaluga, Voronezh, and Ryazan, tens of thousands of young peasants had failed to answer the first recruiting summons by the Soviets … The war commissariat of Ryazan succeeded in gathering in some fifteen thousand of such deserters. While passing through Ryazan, I decided to take a look at them. Some of our men tried to dissuade me. “Something might happen,” they warned me. But everything went off beautifully. The men were called out of their barracks. “Comrade-deserters – come to the meeting. Comrade Trotsky has come to speak to you.” They ran out excited, boisterous, as curious as schoolboys. I had imagined them much worse, and they had imagined me as more terrible. In a few minutes, I was surrounded by a huge crowd of unbridled, utterly undisciplined, but not at all hostile men. The “comrade-deserters” were looking at me with such curiosity that it seemed as if their eyes would pop out of their heads. I climbed on a table there in the yard, and spoke to them for about an hour and a half. It was a most responsive audience. I tried to raise them in their own eyes; concluding, I asked them to lift their hands in token of their loyalty to the revolution. The new ideas infected them before my very eyes. They were genuinely enthusiastic; they followed me to the automobile, devoured me with their eyes, not fearfully, as before, but rapturously, and shouted at the tops of their voices. They would hardly let me go. I learned afterward, with some pride, that one of the best ways to educate them was to remind them: “What did you promise Comrade Trotsky?” Later on, regiments of Ryazan “deserters” fought well at the fronts.

Given the lack of manpower and the 16 opposing foreign armies, Trotsky also insisted on the use of former Tsarist officers as military specialists within the Red Army, in combination with Bolshevik political commissars to ensure the revolutionary nature of the Red Army. Lenin commented on this:

When Comrade Trotsky informed me recently that the number of officers of the old army employed by our War Department runs into several tens of thousands, I perceived concretely where the secret of using our enemy lay, how to compel those who had opposed communism to build it, how to build communism with the bricks which the capitalists had chosen to hurl against us! We have no other bricks! And so, we must compel the bourgeois experts, under the leadership of the proletariat, to build up our edifice with these bricks. This is what is difficult; but this is the pledge of victory.[67]

Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Lev Kamenev motivate the troops to fight on the Soviet-Polish war. May 1, 1920

In September 1918, the Bolshevik government, facing continuous military difficulties, declared what amounted to martial law and reorganized the Red Army. The Supreme Military Council was abolished and the position of commander-in-chief was restored, filled by the commander of the Latvian Riflemen, Ioakim Vatsetis (a.k.a. Jukums Vācietis), who had formerly led the Eastern Front against the Czechoslovak Legions. Vatsetis took charge of day-to-day operations of the army while Trotsky became chairman of the newly formed Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic and retained overall control of the military. Trotsky and Vatsetis had clashed earlier in 1918, while Vatsetis and Trotsky’s adviser Mikhail Bonch-Bruevich were also on unfriendly terms. Nevertheless, Trotsky eventually established a working relationship with the often prickly Vatsetis.

The reorganization caused yet another conflict between Trotsky and Stalin in late September. Trotsky appointed former imperial general Pavel Pavlovich Sytin to command the Southern Front, but in early October 1918 Stalin refused to accept him and so he was recalled[by whom?] from the front. Lenin and Yakov Sverdlov tried to make Trotsky and Stalin reconcile, but their meeting proved unsuccessful.

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Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov,[a] better known by the alias Lenin[b] (22 April 1870[1] – 21 January 1924), was a Russian communist revolutionary, politician and political theorist. He served as head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1924 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, Russia and then the wider Soviet Union became a one-party communist state governed by the Russian Communist Party. Ideologically a Marxist, he developed political theories known as Leninism.

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Soviets and electrification are the basis of a new world (1922)

Born to a wealthy middle-class family in Simbirsk, Lenin embraced revolutionary socialist politics following his brother’s 1887 execution. Expelled from Kazan Imperial University for participating in protests against the Russian Empire‘s Tsarist government, he devoted the following years to a law degree. He moved to Saint Petersburg in 1893 and became a senior Marxist activist. In 1897, he was arrested for sedition and exiled to Shushenskoye for three years, where he married Nadezhda Krupskaya. After his exile, he moved to Western Europe, where he became a prominent theorist in the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). In 1903, he took a key role in a RSDLP ideological split, leading the Bolshevik faction against Julius Martov‘s Mensheviks. Encouraging insurrection during Russia’s failed Revolution of 1905, he later campaigned for the First World War to be transformed into a Europe-wide proletarian revolution, which as a Marxist he believed would cause the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with socialism. After the 1917 February Revolution ousted the Tsar and established a Provisional Government, he returned to Russia to play a leading role in the October Revolution, in which the Bolsheviks overthrew the new regime.

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Lenin’s Bolshevik government initially shared power with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, elected soviets, and a multi-party Constituent Assembly, although by 1918 it had centralised power in the new Communist Party. Lenin’s administration redistributed land among the peasantry and nationalised banks and large-scale industry. It withdrew from the First World War by signing a treaty with the Central Powers and promoted world revolution through the Communist International. Opponents were suppressed in the Red Terror, a violent campaign administered by the state security services; tens of thousands were killed or interned in concentration camps. His administration defeated right and left-wing anti-Bolshevik armies in the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1922 and oversaw the Polish–Soviet War of 1919–1921. Responding to wartime devastation, famine, and popular uprisings, in 1921 Lenin encouraged economic growth through the market-oriented New Economic Policy. Several non-Russian nations secured independence after 1917, but three re-united with Russia through the formation of the Soviet Union in 1922. In increasingly poor health, Lenin expressed opposition to the growing power of his successor, Joseph Stalin, before dying at his dacha in Gorki.

Widely considered one of the most significant and influential figures of the 20th century, Lenin was the posthumous subject of a pervasive personality cult within the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. He became an ideological figurehead behind Marxism–Leninism and thus a prominent influence over the international communist movement. A controversial and highly divisive individual, Lenin is viewed by supporters as a champion of socialism and the working class, while critics on both the left and right emphasize his role as founder and leader of an authoritarian regime responsible for political repression and mass killings.

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Joseph Stalin

Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, better known by the alias Joseph Stalin[a] (18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953), was a Soviet revolutionary and politician of Georgian nationality. Ruling the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953, he served as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1952 and as the nation’s Premier from 1941 to 1953. Initially presiding over an oligarchic one-party state that governed by consensus, he became the de facto dictator of the Soviet Union by the 1930s. Ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin helped to formalise these ideas as Marxism–Leninism while his own policies became known as Stalinism.

Military Command: 1918–1921

After the Bolsheviks seized power, both right and left-wing armies rallied against them, generating the Russian Civil War.[203] To secure access to the dwindling food supply, in May 1918 Sovnarkom sent Stalin to Tsaritsyn to take charge of food procurement in southern Russia.[204] Eager to prove himself as a commander,[205] once there he took control of regional military operations.[206] He befriended two military figures, Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny, who would form the nucleus of his military and political support base.[207] Believing that victory was assured by numerical superiority, he sent large numbers of Red Army troops into battle against the region’s anti-Bolshevik White armies, resulting in heavy losses; Lenin was concerned by this costly tactic.[208] In Tsaritsyn, Stalin executed suspected counter-revolutionaries, sometimes without trial,[209] and—in contravention of government orders—purged the military and food collection agencies of middle-class specialists, some of whom he also executed.[210] His use of state violence and terror was at a greater scale than most Bolshevik leaders approved of;[211] for instance, he ordered several villages to be torched to ensure compliance with his food procurement program.[212]

Joseph Stalin, Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin meeting in 1919. All three of them were “Old Bolsheviks“—members of the Bolshevik party before the Russian Revolution of 1917.

In December 1918, Stalin was sent to Perm to lead an inquiry into how Alexander Kolchak‘s White forces had been able to decimate Red troops based there.[213] He returned to Moscow between January and March 1919,[214] before being assigned to the Western Front at Petrograd.[215] When the Red Third Regiment defected, he ordered the public execution of captured defectors.[214] In September he was returned to the Southern Front.[214] During the war, he proved his worth to the Central Committee, displaying decisiveness, determination, and a willingness to take on responsibility in conflict situations.[205] At the same time, he disregarded orders and repeatedly threatened to resign when affronted.[216] In November 1919, the government awarded him the Order of the Red Banner for his wartime service.[217]

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Stålmannen (Steelman) Josef Stalin

The Bolsheviks had won the civil war by late 1919.[218] Sovnarkom turned its attention to spreading proletarian revolution abroad, to this end forming the Communist International in March 1919; Stalin attended its inaugural ceremony.[219] Although Stalin did not share Lenin’s belief that the European proletariat were on the verge of revolution, he acknowledged that as long as it stood alone, Soviet Russia remained vulnerable.[220] In December 1918, he had drawn up decrees recognising Marxist-governed Soviet republics in Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia;[221] during the civil war these Marxist governments had been overthrown and the Baltic countries became fully independent of Russia, an act which he regarded as illegitimate.[222] In February 1920, Stalin was appointed to head the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate;[223] that same month he was also transferred to the Caucasian Front.[224]

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Stalin Salute WWII Propaganda Poster

“Forwards, Let Us Destroy the German Occupiers and Drive Them Beyond the…”
USSR Poster, 1944

Following earlier clashes between Polish and Russian troops, the Polish–Soviet War broke out in early 1920.[220] Stalin was moved to Ukraine, on the Southwest Front.[225] The Red Army forced the Polish troops back into Poland.[226] Lenin believed that the Polish proletariat would rise up to support the Russians against Józef Piłsudski‘s Polish government. Stalin had cautioned against this; he believed that nationalism would lead the Polish working-classes to support their government’s war effort. He also believed that the Red Army was ill-prepared to conduct an offensive war and that it would give White Armies a chance to resurface in Crimea, potentially reigniting the civil war.[227] Stalin lost the argument, after which he accepted Lenin’s decision and supported it.[224] Along the Southwest Front, he became determined to conquer Lwów; in focusing on this goal he disobeyed orders to transfer his troops to assist Mikhail Tukhachevsky‘s forces.[228] In August, the Poles repulsed the Russian advance and Stalin returned to Moscow.[229] A Polish-Soviet peace treaty was signed; Stalin saw this as a failure for which he blamed Trotsky.[230] In turn, Trotsky accused Stalin of “strategic mistakes” in his handling of the war at the 9th Bolshevik Conference.[231] Stalin felt resentful and under-appreciated; in September he demanded demission from the military, which was granted.

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Stalin saluting the Red Army during the Russian Civil War

Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine

Participant in the Russian Civil War and Ukrainian War of Independence
Flag of the Second Insurgent Regiment of the RIAU (Reverse)

Flag of the Second Insurgent Regiment of the RIAU (Reverse)
Active 1918–1921
Ideology Anarchism
Anarchist communism
Political position Far-left
Allegiance Free Territory
Leaders Nestor Makhno
Simon Karetnik
Fedir Shchus
Viktor Belash
Area of operations southern regions of modern Ukraine and some Russia
Size 103,000 in December 1919
Originated as Black Guards

Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine

The Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (Ukrainian: Революційна Повстанська Армія України), also known as the Black Army or simply as Makhnovshchyna (Ukrainian: Махновщина), was an anarchist army formed largely of Ukrainian peasants and workers[1] under the command of the famous anarchist Nestor Makhno during the Russian Civil War of 1917–1922. They protected the operation of “free soviets” and libertarian communes in the Free Territory, an attempt to form a stateless anarcho-communist society from 1918 to 1921 during the Ukrainian Revolution.

The flag of the anarchist Black Army during the Russian Civil War

The flag of the Anarchist Black Army during the Russian Civil War
Flag reads: 
“Death to all who stand in the way of freedom for working people!” [Ukrainian Black Army. Russian Civil War: 1918-1921]

Death to those who stand against freedom for working people


Tachanka used by Black Army soldiers at the Huliaipole museum.

Nestor Makhno and the Insurrectionary Anarchist Army

Ukrainian anarchist guerrilla bands were active during the Russian Civil War. Some claimed to be loyal to the Ukrainian state, but others acknowledged no allegiance; all fought both the Red and White Armies with equal ferocity in the opening stages of the Civil War. Of all the anarchist groups, the most famous and successful was that of the peasant anarchist leader Nestor Makhno, aka Batko (“Father”), who began operations in the southeastern Ukraine against the Hetmanate regime in July 1918. In September, he formed the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, or Anarchist Black Army, with arms and equipment largely obtained from retreating Austro-Hungarian and German forces. During the Civil War, the Black Army numbered between 15,000 and 110,000 men[2] and was organized on conventional lines, with infantry, cavalry, and artillery units; artillery batteries were attached to each infantry brigade. Makhno’s cavalry incorporated both regular and irregular (guerrilla) horse-mounted forces, and was considered among the best-trained and most capable of any of the cavalry units deployed by any side in the Russian Civil War.[3]

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[Ukrainian Black Army. Russian Civil War: 1918-1921]

The Bolshevik government and Red Army commanders often referred to the Black Army as “Makhnovist forces”, because they pointedly declined to accord the Ukrainian anarchists the status of having an army or a legitimate political movement. Volin described the Insurrectionary Black Army of the time (less its cavalry, which normally ranged far afield) as follows: The infantry, when it was not fighting, led the march of the army … [The Black Army also used horse-drawn carts or] tachankas. Each of these vehicles, which were drawn by two horses, carried the driver on the front seat and two soldiers behind them. In some sections a machine-gun was installed on the seat between them. The artillery brought up the rear. A huge black flag floated over the first carriage. The slogans Liberty or Death and The Land to the Peasants, the Factories to the Workers were embroidered in silver on its two sides.[4]

A main obstacle to the anarchist army, and one which it never overcame throughout its existence, was a lack of access to primary industrial manufacturing resources, specifically factories capable of producing large amounts of arms and ammunition. Denied large-scale arms shipments from the Bolshevik government in Moscow, and without arsenal manufacturing centers of its own, the Black Army was forced to rely on captures of munition depots and supplies from enemy forces, and to procure food and horses from the local civilian population.

Red Army mutinies in Ukraine

By May 1919, the Bolshevik government had withdrawn most Red Army forces from Ukraine after White successes in the south. The remaining Red Army troops who had stayed in various parts of Ukraine were suspicious of their commanders, and angry at the withdrawals from Ukraine, which they considered a defection from the revolutionary cause. At the end of July, 1919, Red Army detachments numbering some 40,000 troops in Crimea mutinied and deposed their commanders; many set out to join Makhno’s anarchist Black Army. The mutiny was organized by some of Makhno’s anarchist comrades who had remained commanders in the ranks of the Red Army, including Kalashnikov, Dermendzhi, and Budanov; these men also planned the transfer of forces. Large numbers of Red Army soldiers advanced from Novi Bug to Pomoshchnaya in search of Makhno’s Black Army, bringing with them, as captives, their former commanders: Kochergin, Dybets and others. The mutineers joined Black Army forces at Dobrovelychkivka in the municipality of Kherson at the beginning of August 1919. For the Bolshevik government in Moscow, this defection was a major blow; since almost nothing remained of the Red Army in southern Ukraine and the Crimea, Bolshevik influence in the area vanished.[5]


“Death to all who stand in the way of freedom for working people!”

Campaign against Denikin and the White Army

Makhno and the Ukrainian anarchist Black Army, at first declared ‘bandits’ and ‘outlaws’ by the Moscow’s Bolshevik government, were welcomed after General Anton Denikin threatened to overrun Moscow in a drive towards the city in 1919. After concluding an agreement with the Ukrainian Directory, Makhno and his subordinate commanders made plans to turn the Black Army east and attack Denikin’s Volunteer Army and its lines of supply, hoping to break through his lines.[5]

The Black Army had been retreating to the west across Ukraine. But on the evening of September 25, 1919, it suddenly turned east, attacking the main forces of General Denikin’s army. The first encounter took place late in the evening near the village of Kruten’koe, where the Black Army’s First Infantry Brigade advanced towards White Army positions. Denikin’s troops retreated to take up better positions. At first, Denikin believed the move was a feint or reconnaissance-in-force, and did not follow up, concluding that most of the anarchist army was still retiring to the west. However, in the middle of the night, all of Makhno’s troops began an offensive to the east. The White Army’s principal forces in the area were concentrated near the village of Peregonovka; the village itself was occupied by anarchist units. An intense battle broke out, and the occupying anarchist forces began to lose ground, pressured by White Army reinforcements, including infantry regiments composed largely of young and fanatically anti-communist officers. Makhno’s headquarters staff, as well as everyone in the village who could handle a rifle, armed themselves and joined in the fighting. On the approach of Makhno’s cavalry forces, White Army troops retreated from Peregonovka. A fierce battle took place outside the town, including instances of hand-to-hand combat. A White regiment was forced to retreat, at first slowly and in an orderly way, but as the fighting moved near the Sinyukha river, it became a rout. The other regiments, seized by panic, followed them. Finally all of Denikin’s troops in the area were routed; most escaped by swimming across the Sinyukha River, but hundreds died in the river and on its banks.[5]

After this victory, Makhno’s troops set out to attack Denikin’s lines of supply. The fall of Aleksandrovsk to the Black Army was followed by Pologi, Gulyai-Polye, Berdyansk, Melitopol‘, and Mariupol‘. In less than two weeks, all of southern Ukraine had been conquered by Black Army troops. Makhno’s occupation of southern Ukraine, especially the regions bordering on the Sea of Azov, soon posed a threat to Denikin’s entire offensive, as the supply base of Denikin’s army was located in the region between Mariupol’ and Volnovakha. When Berdyansk and Mariupol’ were taken, immense stores of munitions were captured by anarchist forces. Because all the railroads of the region were controlled by the Black Army, no war material could reach Denikin’s forces on the northern front. White Army reserve regiments stationed throughout the region were ordered to break the blockade, but were instead routed.[5]

Black Army combat group, headed by Fedir Shchus (center)

After a failed attempt to dislodge Black Army forces, Denikin shifted his campaign from the north to the south. The White Army’s best cavalry troops, commanded by General Konstantin Mamontov and General Shkuro, were transferred from the northern front to the Gulyai-Polye region of Novorossiya. Denikin’s new strategy succeeded in driving out Makhno’s forces from part of Ukraine, but at the cost of denuding forces opposing the Red Army. During October and November 1919, Denikin’s troops were defeated in a series of battles by Red Army forces. His Caucasus regiments suffered the greatest losses, especially the Chechen cavalry and others, who died by the thousands. Towards the end of November, some of these troops mutinied, returning to their homes in the Caucasus. This in turn began a slow disintegration of Denikin’s Volunteer Army. Some historians note that if the anarchist forces had not won a decisive victory at Peregonovka, blockading Denikin’s lines of supply and denying the White Army supplies of food, ammunition, and artillery reinforcements, the White Army would probably have entered Moscow in December 1919.[5] All through February, 1920 the Free TerritoryMakhnovist region—was inundated with Red troops, including the 42nd Rifle Division and the Latvian & Estonian Red Division – in total at least 20,000 soldiers.[6] After the souring and dissolution of Nestor Makhno’s Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine with Bolsheviks the captured Red commanders and commissars were similarly summarily executed. However, Makhno usually preferred to release the disarmed enlisted men that were captured, as “proletarian brothers”, with a choice of joining his army or returning home, after all commanding officers were executed. This happened to an Estonian Red Army unit that surrendered to Makhno in 1920.[7] Viktor Belash noted that even in the worst time for the revolutionary army, namely at the beginning of 1920, “In the majority of cases rank-and-file Red Army soldiers were set free”. Of course Belash, as a colleague of Makhno’s, was likely to idealize the punishment policies of the Batko. However, the facts bear witness that Makhno really did release “in all four directions” captured Red Army soldiers. This is what happened at the beginning of February 1920, when the insurgents disarmed the 10,000-strong Estonian Division in Huliaipole.[8] To this it must be added that the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine included a choir of Estonian musicians.[9] The problem was further compounded by the alienation of the Estonians by Anton Denikin‘s Russian nationalist view of Malorossiya and their refusal to fight with Nikolai Yudenich.

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Nestor Ivanovych Makhno

Nestor Ivanovych Makhno or Bat’ko (“Father”) Makhno[1] (Ukrainian: Не́стор Івáнович Махно́; October 26, 1888 (N.S. November 7) – July 25, 1934)[2][3] was a Ukrainian anarcho-communist revolutionary and the commander of an independent anarchist army in Ukraine in 1917–22.

As commander of the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, commonly referred to as the Makhnovshchina, Makhno led a guerrilla campaign. Makhnovshchina can be loosely translated as “Makhno movement”. The term encompasses not only the army but the whole of the movement’s activities and overall spirit. The suffix –shchina can be employed in a slightly derogatory manner, but this is not the intention in this case, given that the movement’s adherents – including Makhno himself – frequently used the term to describe themselves. Makhno fought all factions which sought to impose any external authority over southern Ukraine, battling in succession the Ukrainian Nationalists, the Imperial German and Austro-German occupation, the Hetmanate Republic, the Russian White Army, the Russian Red Army, and other smaller forces led by Ukrainian otamans. Makhno and his movement repeatedly attempted to reorganize life in the Huliaipole region along anarchist lines; however, the disruptions of the civil war precluded any long-term social experiments.

Although Makhno considered the Bolsheviks a threat to the development of an anarchist Free Territory within Ukraine, he twice entered into military alliances with them to defeat the White Army. In the aftermath of the defeat of the White Army in the region in November 1920, the Bolsheviks initiated a military campaign against Makhno, which concluded with his escape across the Romanian border in August 1921. After a series of imprisonments and escapes, Makhno finally settled in Paris with his wife Halyna and daughter Yelena. In exile Makhno wrote three volumes of memoirs.[4] Makhno died in exile at the age of 45 from tuberculosis-related causes. He is also credited as the inventor of the tachanka, a horse-drawn platform mounting a heavy machine gun.

Organizing the peasants’ movement

After liberation from prison, Makhno organized a peasants’ union.[10] It gave him a “Robin Hood” image and he expropriated large estates from landowners and distributed the land among the peasants.[10]

In March 1918 the new Bolshevik government in Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk concluding peace with the Central Powers, but ceding large amounts of territory, including Ukraine. As the Central Rada of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR) proved unable to maintain order, a coup by Pavlo Skoropadsky in April 1918 resulted in the establishment of the Hetmanate. Already dissatisfied by the UNR’s failure to resolve the question of land ownership, much of the peasantry refused to support a conservative government administered by former imperial officials and supported by the Austro-Hungarian and German occupiers.[11] Peasant bands under various self-appointed otamany which had been counted on the rolls of the UNR’s army now attacked the Germans, later going over to the Directory in summer 1918 or to the Bolsheviks in late 1918–19, or home to protect local interests, in many cases changing allegiances, plundering so-called class enemies, and venting age-old resentments.[12] They finally dominated the countryside in mid-1919; the largest portion would follow either Socialist Revolutionary Matviy Hryhoriyiv or the anarchist flag of Makhno.[12]

In Yekaterinoslav province the rebellion soon took on anarchist political overtones. Nestor Makhno joined an anarchist group (headed by sailor-deserter Fedir Shchus) and eventually became its commander. Due in part to the impressive personality and charisma of Makhno, all Ukrainian anarchist detachments and peasant guerrilla bands in the region subsequently became known as Makhnovists. These eventually came together in the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine (RIAU), also called the Black Army (because they fought under the anarchist black flag). The RIAU battled against the Whites (counter-revolutionaries) forces, Ukrainian nationalists, and various independent paramilitary formations that conducted anti-semitic pogroms. The anarchist movement in Ukraine came to be referred to as the Black Army, Makhnovism or pejoratively Makhnovshchina.

In areas where they drove out opposing armies, villagers (and workers) sought to abolish capitalism and the state by organizing themselves into village assemblies, communes and free councils. The land and factories were expropriated and put under nominal peasant and worker control by means of self-governing committees; however, town mayors and many officials were drawn directly from the ranks of Makhno’s military and political leadership.

ANCOM Red Star.png


Anarcho-communism (also known as anarchist communism,[1] free communism, libertarian communism[2][3][4][5][6] and communist anarchism)[7][8] is a theory of anarchism which advocates the abolition of the state, capitalism, wage labour and private property (while retaining respect for personal property)[9] in favor of common ownership of the means of production,[10][11] direct democracy and a horizontal network of workers’ councils with production and consumption based on the guiding principle: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs“.

Makhnovists and formation of the anarchist Black Army

Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky, head of the Ukrainian State, lost the support of the Central Powers (Germany and Austro-Hungary, which had armed his forces and installed him in power) after the collapse of the German western front. Unpopular among most southern Ukrainians, the Hetman saw his best forces evaporate, and was driven out of Kiev by the Directory. In March 1918, Makhno’s forces and allied anarchist and guerrilla groups won victories against German, Austrian, and Ukrainian nationalist (the army of Symon Petlura) forces, and units of the White Army, capturing many German and Austro-Hungarian arms. These victories over much larger enemy forces established Makhno’s reputation as a military tactician; he became known as Batko (‘Father’) to his admirers.[10]

At this point, the emphasis on military campaigns that Makhno had adopted in the previous year shifted to political concerns. The first Congress of the Confederation of Anarchists Groups, under the name of Nabat (“the Alarm Bell Toll”), issued five main principles: rejection of all political parties, rejection of all forms of dictatorships (including the dictatorship of the proletariat, viewed by Makhnovists and many anarchists of the day as a term synonymous with the dictatorship of the Bolshevik communist party), negation of any concept of a central state, rejection of a so-called “transitional period” necessitating a temporary dictatorship of the proletariat, and self-management of all workers through free local workers’ councils (soviets). While the Bolsheviks argued that their concept of dictatorship of the proletariat meant precisely “rule by workers’ councils,” the Makhnovist platform opposed the “temporary” Bolshevik measure of “party dictatorship.” The Nabat was by no means a puppet of Makhno and his supporters, from time to time criticizing the Black Army and its conduct in the war.

In 1918, after recruiting large numbers of Ukrainian peasants, as well as numbers of Jews, anarchists, naletchki, and recruits arriving from other countries, Makhno formed the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, otherwise known as the Anarchist Black Army. At its formation, the Black Army consisted of about 15,000 armed troops, including infantry and cavalry (both regular and irregular) brigades; artillery detachments were incorporated into each regiment. From November 1918 to June 1919, using the Black Army to secure its hold on power, the Makhnovists attempted to create an anarchist society in Ukraine, administered at the local level by autonomous peasants’ and workers’ councils.

New relationships and values were generated by this new social paradigm, which led Makhnovists to formalize the policy of free communities as the highest form of social justice. Education was organized on Francisco Ferrer‘s principles, and the economy was based upon free exchange between rural and urban communities, from crop and cattle to manufactured products, according to the science proposed by Peter Kropotkin.[citation needed]

Makhno called the Bolsheviks dictators and opposed the “Cheka [secret police]… and similar compulsory authoritative and disciplinary institutions” and called for “[f]reedom of speech, press, assembly, unions and the like”.[13] The Bolsheviks, in turn, accused the Makhnovists of imposing a formal government over the area they controlled, and also said that Makhnovists used forced conscription, committed summary executions, and had two military and counter-intelligence forces: the Kontrrazvedka, with punitive functions transferred in 1920 to the Kommissiya Protivmakhnovskikh Del (Commission for Anti-Makhnovist Activities).[14]

The Bolsheviks claimed that it would be impossible for a small, agricultural society to organize into an anarchist society so quickly. However, Eastern Ukraine had a large amount of coal mines, and was one of the most industrialised parts of the Russian Empire.

Geography and chronology

In the European part of Russia the war was fought across three main fronts: the eastern, the southern and the northwestern. It can also be roughly split into the following periods.

Anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army in South Russia, January 1918

The first period lasted from the Revolution until the Armistice. Already on the date of the Revolution, Cossack Gen. Kaledin refused to recognize it and assumed full governmental authority in the Don region,[17] where the Volunteer Army began amassing support. The signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk also resulted in direct Allied intervention in Russia and the arming of military forces opposed to the Bolshevik government. There were also many German commanders who offered support against the Bolsheviks, fearing a confrontation with them was impending as well.

General Aleksei Kaledin.PNGGeneral Aleksei Kaledin

During this first period the Bolsheviks took control of Central Asia out of the hands of the Provisional Government and White Army, setting up a base for the Communist Party in the Steppe and Turkestan, where nearly two million Russian settlers were located.[18]

Russian soldiers of the anti-Bolshevik Siberian Army in 1919

Most of the fighting in this first period was sporadic, involving only small groups amid a fluid and rapidly shifting strategic scene. Among the antagonists were the Czechs, known as the Czechoslovak Legion or “White Czechs”,[19] the Poles of the Polish 5th Rifle Division and the pro-Bolshevik Red Latvian riflemen.

The second period of the war lasted from January to November 1919. At first the White armies’ advances from the south (under Gen. Denikin), the east (under Adm. Kolchak) and the northwest (under Gen. Yudenich) were successful, forcing the Red Army and its allies back on all three fronts. In July 1919 the Red Army suffered another reverse after a mass defection of units in the Crimea to the anarchist Black Army under Nestor Makhno, enabling anarchist forces to consolidate power in Ukraine. Leon Trotsky soon reformed the Red Army, concluding the first of two military alliances with the anarchists. In June the Red Army first checked Kolchak’s advance. After a series of engagements, assisted by a Black Army offensive against White supply lines, the Red Army defeated Denikin’s and Yudenich’s armies in October and November.

The third period of the war was the extended siege of the last White forces in the Crimea. Gen. Wrangel had gathered the remnants of Denikin’s armies, occupying much of the Crimea. An attempted invasion of southern Ukraine was rebuffed by the anarchist Black Army under the command of Nestor Makhno. Pursued into the Crimea by Makhno’s troops, Wrangel went over to the defensive in the Crimea. After an abortive move north against the Red Army, Wrangel’s troops were forced south by Red Army and Black Army forces; Wrangel and the remains of his army were evacuated to Constantinople in November 1920.

Soviet troops on a train, Russian Civil War.jpg


October Revolution

European theatre of the Russian Civil War

In the October Revolution the Bolshevik Party directed the Red Guard (armed groups of workers and Imperial army deserters) to seize control of Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) and immediately began the armed takeover of cities and villages throughout the former Russian Empire. In January 1918 the Bolsheviks dissolved the Russian Constituent Assembly and proclaimed the Soviets (workers’ councils) as the new government of Russia.

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Initial anti-Bolshevik uprisings

The first attempt to regain power from the Bolsheviks was made by the Kerensky-Krasnov uprising in October 1917. It was supported by the Junker Mutiny in Petrograd but was quickly put down by the Red Guard, notably the Latvian Rifle Division.

The initial groups that fought against the Communists were local Cossack armies that had declared their loyalty to the Provisional Government. Gen. Kaledin of the Don Cossacks and Gen. Semenov of the Siberian Cossacks were prominent among them. The leading Tsarist officers of the old regime also started to resist. In November, Gen. Alekseev, the Tsar’s Chief of Staff during the First World War, began to organize the Volunteer Army in Novocherkassk. Volunteers of this small army were mostly officers of the old Russian army, military cadets and students. In December 1917 Alekseev was joined by Gen. Kornilov, Denikin and other Tsarist officers who had escaped from the jail, where they had been imprisoned following the abortive Kornilov affair just before the Revolution.[20] At the beginning of December 1917 groups of volunteers and Cossacks captured Rostov.

Having stated in the November 1917 “Declaration of Rights of Nations of Russia” that any nation under imperial Russian rule should be immediately given the power of self-determination, the Bolsheviks had begun to usurp the power of the Provisional Government in the territories of Central Asia soon after the establishment of the Turkestan Committee in Tashkent.[21] In April 1917 the Provisional Government set up this committee, which was mostly made up of former Tsarist officials.[22] The Bolsheviks attempted to take control of the Committee in Tashkent on 12 September 1917 but it was unsuccessful, and many leaders were arrested. However, because the Committee lacked representation of the native population and poor Russian settlers, they had to release the Bolshevik prisoners almost immediately due to public outcry, and a successful takeover of this government body took place two months later in November.[23] The triumph of the Bolshevik party over the Provisional Government during 1917 was mostly due to the support they received from the working class of Central Asia. The Leagues of Mohammedam Working People, which Russian settlers and natives who had been sent to work behind the lines for the Tsarist government in 1916 formed in March 1917, had led numerous strikes in the industrial centers throughout September 1917.[24] However, after the Bolshevik destruction of the Provisional Government in Tashkent, Muslim elites formed an autonomous government in Turkestan, commonly called the “Kokand autonomy” (or simply Kokand).[25] The White Russians supported this government body, which lasted several months because of Bolshevik troop isolation from Moscow.[26] In January 1918 the Soviet forces under Lt. Col. Muravyov invaded Ukraine and invested Kiev, where the Central Council of the Ukrainian People’s Republic held power. With the help of the Kiev Arsenal Uprising, the Bolsheviks captured the city on 26 January.[27]

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Peace with the Central Powers

Soviet delegation with Trotsky greeted by German officers at Brest-Litovsk, 8 January 1918

The Bolsheviks decided to immediately make peace with the German Empire and the Central Powers, as they had promised the Russian people before the Revolution.[28] Vladimir Lenin‘s political enemies attributed that decision to his sponsorship by the Foreign Office of Wilhelm II, German Emperor, offered to Lenin in hope that, with a revolution, Russia would withdraw from World War I. That suspicion was bolstered by the German Foreign Ministry’s sponsorship of Lenin’s return to Petrograd.[29] However, after the military fiasco of the summer offensive (June 1917) by the Russian Provisional Government, and in particular after the failed summer offensive of the Provisional Government had devastated the structure of the Russian army, it became crucial that Lenin realize the promised peace.[30][31] Even before the failed summer offensive the Russian population was very skeptical about the continuation of the war. Western socialists had promptly arrived from France and from the UK to convince the Russians to continue the fight, but could not change the new pacifist mood of Russia.[32]

On 16 December 1917 an armistice was signed between Russia and the Central Powers in Brest-Litovsk and peace talks began.[33] As a condition for peace, the proposed treaty by the Central Powers conceded huge portions of the former Russian Empire to the German Empire and the Ottoman Empire, greatly upsetting nationalists and conservatives. Leon Trotsky, representing the Bolsheviks, refused at first to sign the treaty while continuing to observe a unilateral cease-fire, following the policy of “No war, no peace”.[34]

In view of this, on 18 February 1918 the Germans began Operation Faustschlag on the Eastern Front, encountering virtually no resistance in a campaign that lasted 11 days.[34] Signing a formal peace treaty was the only option in the eyes of the Bolsheviks because the Russian army was demobilized, and the newly formed Red Guard was incapable of stopping the advance. They also understood that the impending counterrevolutionary resistance was more dangerous than the concessions of the treaty, which Lenin viewed as temporary in the light of aspirations for a world revolution. The Soviets acceded to a peace treaty, and the formal agreement, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, was ratified on 6 March. The Soviets viewed the treaty as merely a necessary and expedient means to end the war. Therefore, they ceded large amounts of territory to the German Empire.

Red Guard into Army

Ukraine, South Russia, and Caucasus 1918

February 1918 article from The New York Times showing a map of the Russian Imperial territories claimed by the Ukrainian People’s Republic at the time, before the annexation of the Austro-Hungarian lands of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic

Under Soviet pressure, the Volunteer Army embarked on the epic Ice March from Yekaterinodar to Kuban on 22 February 1918, where they joined with the Kuban Cossacks to mount an abortive assault on Yekaterinodar.[35] The Soviets recaptured Rostov on the next day.[36] Gen. Kornilov was killed in the fighting on 13 April, and Gen. Denikin took over command. Fighting off its pursuers without respite, the army succeeded in breaking its way through back towards the Don, where the Cossack uprising against Bolsheviks had started.

The Baku Soviet Commune was established on 13 April. Germany landed its Caucasus Expedition troops in Poti on 8 June. The Ottoman Army of Islam (in coalition with Azerbaijan) drove them out of Baku on 26 July 1918. Subsequently, the Dashanaks, Right SRs and Mensheviks started negotiations with Gen. Dunsterville, the commander of the British troops in Persia. The Bolsheviks and their Left SR allies were opposed to it, but on 25 July the majority of the Soviet voted to call in the British and the Bolsheviks resigned. The Baku Soviet Commune ended its existence and was replaced by the Central Caspian Dictatorship.

In June 1918 the Volunteer Army, numbering some 9,000 men, started its Second Kuban campaign. Yekaterinodar was encircled on 1 August and fell on the 3rd. In September–October, heavy fighting took place at Armavir and Stavropol. On 13 October Gen. Kazanovich’s division took Armavir, and on 1 November Gen. Pyotr Wrangel secured Stavropol. This time Red forces had no escape, and by the beginning of 1919 the whole Northern Caucasus was controlled by the Volunteer Army.

In October Gen. Alekseev, the leader of the White armies in southern Russia, died of a heart attack. An agreement was reached between Denikin, head of the Volunteer Army, and Pyotr Krasnov, Ataman of the Don Cossacks, which united their forces under the sole command of Denikin. The Armed Forces of South Russia were thus created.

A bolshevik propaganda poster from the russian civil war.jpg

Eastern Russia, Siberia and Far East of Russia, 1918

The revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion broke out in May 1918,[37] and the legionaries took control of Chelyabinsk in June. Simultaneously Russian officers’ organizations overthrew the Bolsheviks in Petropavlovsk (in present-day Kazakhstan) and in Omsk. Within a month the Whites controlled most of the Trans-Siberian Railroad between Lake Baikal and the Ural regions. During the summer Bolshevik power in Siberia was eliminated. The Provisional Government of Autonomous Siberia formed in Omsk. By the end of July the Whites had extended their gains westwards, capturing Ekaterinburg on 26 July 1918. Shortly before the fall of Yekaterinburg on 17 July 1918, the former Tsar and his family were murdered by the Ural Soviet to prevent them falling into the hands of the Whites.

Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries supported peasants fighting against Soviet control of food supplies.[38] In May 1918, with the support of the Czechoslovak Legion, they took Samara and Saratov, establishing the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly—known as the “Komuch”. By July the authority of the Komuch extended over much of the area controlled by the Czechoslovak Legion. The Komuch pursued an ambivalent social policy, combining democratic and socialist measures, such as the institution of an eight-hour working day, with “restorative” actions, such as returning both factories and land to their former owners. After the fall of Kazan, Vladimir Lenin called for the dispatch of Petrograd workers to the Kazan Front: “We must send down the maximum number of Petrograd workers: (1) a few dozen ‘leaders’ like Kayurov; (2) a few thousand militants ‘from the ranks'”.[39]

Russian Civil War Slogans.jpg

After a series of reverses at the front, the Bolsheviks’ War Commissar, Trotsky, instituted increasingly harsh measures in order to prevent unauthorized withdrawals, desertions and mutinies in the Red Army. In the field the Cheka special investigations forces, termed the Special Punitive Department of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combat of Counter-Revolution and Sabotage or Special Punitive Brigades, followed the Red Army, conducting field tribunals and summary executions of soldiers and officers who deserted, retreated from their positions or failed to display sufficient offensive zeal.[40][41] Trotsky extended the use of the death penalty to the occasional political commissar whose detachment retreated or broke in the face of the enemy.[42] In August, frustrated at continued reports of Red Army troops breaking under fire, Trotsky authorized the formation of barrier troops – stationed behind unreliable Red Army units and given with orders to shoot anyone withdrawing from the battle line without authorization.[43]

Bolsheviks killed by Czechoslovak legionaries of the 8th Regiment at Nikolsk-Ussuriysky, 1918

In September 1918 Komuch, the Siberian Provisional Government and other local anti-Soviet governments met in Ufa and agreed to form a new Provisional All-Russian Government in Omsk, headed by a Directory of five: two Socialist-Revolutionaries (Nikolai Avksentiev and Vladimir Zenzinov), two Kadets (V. A. Vinogradov (ru) and PV Vologodskii) and General Vasily Boldyrev.

By the fall of 1918 anti-Bolshevik White forces in the east included the People’s Army (Komuch), the Siberian Army (of the Siberian Provisional Government) and insurgent Cossack units of Orenburg, Ural, Siberia, Semirechye, Baikal, Amur and Ussuri Cossacks, nominally under the orders of Gen. V.G. Boldyrev, Commander-in-Chief, appointed by the Ufa Directorate.

On the Volga, Col. Kappel‘s White detachment captured Kazan on 7 August, but the Reds re-captured the city on 8 September 1918 following a counteroffensive. On the 11th Simbirsk fell, and on 8 October Samara. The Whites fell back eastwards to Ufa and Orenburg.

In Omsk the Russian Provisional Government quickly came under the influence – then the dominance – of its new War Minister, Rear-Admiral Kolchak. On 18 November a coup d’état established Kolchak as dictator. The members of the Directory were arrested and Kolchak proclaimed the “Supreme Ruler of Russia”. By mid-December 1918 White armies had to leave Ufa, but they balanced this failure with a successful drive towards Perm, which they took on 24 December.

The Bolsheviks, the Red Army and the Civil War in Russia 1.jpg

The Bolsheviks, the Red Army and the Civil War in Russia

Central Asia 1918

In February 1918 the Red Army overthrew the White Russian-supported Kokand autonomy of Turkestan.[44] Although this move seemed to solidify Bolshevik power in Central Asia, more troubles soon arose for the Red Army as the Allied Forces began to intervene. British support of the White Army provided the greatest threat to the Red Army in Central Asia during 1918. Great Britain sent three prominent military leaders to the area. One was Lt. Col. Bailey, who recorded a mission to Tashkent, from where the Bolsheviks forced him to flee. Another was Gen. Malleson, leading the Malleson Mission, who assisted the Mensheviks in Ashkhabad (now the capital of Turkmenistan) with a small Anglo-Indian force. However, he failed to gain control of Tashkent, Bukhara and Khiva. The third was Maj. Gen. Dunsterville, who the Bolsheviks drove out of Central Asia only a month after his arrival in August 1918.[45] Despite setbacks due to British invasions during 1918, the Bolsheviks continued to make progress in bringing the Central Asian population under their influence. The first regional congress of the Russian Communist Party convened in the city of Tashkent in June 1918 in order to build support for a local Bolshevik Party.[46]

London Geographical Institute’s 1919 map of Europe after the treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Batum and before the treaties of Tartu, Kars, and Riga

Left SR uprising

In July two Left SR and Cheka employees, Blyumkin and Andreyev, assassinated the German ambassador, Count Mirbach. In Moscow a Left SR uprising was put down by the Bolsheviks, using Cheka military detachments. Lenin personally apologized to the Germans for the assassination. Mass arrests of Socialist-Revolutionaries followed.

Estonia, Latvia and Petrograd

Estonia cleared its territory of the Red Army by January 1919.[47] Baltic German volunteers captured Riga from the Red Latvian Riflemen on 22 May, but the Estonian 3rd Division defeated the Baltic Germans a month later, aiding the establishment of the Republic of Latvia.[48]

This rendered possible another threat to the Red Army—one from Gen. Yudenich, who had spent the summer organizing the Northwestern Army in Estonia with local and British support. In October 1919 he tried to capture Petrograd in a sudden assault with a force of around 20,000 men. The attack was well-executed, using night attacks and lightning cavalry maneuvers to turn the flanks of the defending Red Army. Yudenich also had six British tanks, which caused panic whenever they appeared. The Allies gave large quantities of aid to Yudenich, who, however, complained that he was receiving insufficient support.

By 19 October Yudenich’s troops had reached the outskirts of the city. Some members of the Bolshevik central committee in Moscow were willing to give up Petrograd, but Trotsky refused to accept the loss of the city and personally organized its defenses. Trotsky himself declared, “It is impossible for a little army of 15,000 ex-officers to master a working-class capital of 700,000 inhabitants.” He settled on a strategy of urban defense, proclaiming that the city would “defend itself on its own ground” and that the White Army would be lost in a labyrinth of fortified streets and there “meet its grave”.[49]


Trotsky armed all available workers, men and women, ordering the transfer of military forces from Moscow. Within a few weeks the Red Army defending Petrograd had tripled in size and outnumbered Yudenich three to one. At this point Yudenich, short of supplies, decided to call off the siege of the city and withdrew, repeatedly asking permission to withdraw his army across the border to Estonia. However, units retreating across the border were disarmed and interned by order of the Estonian government, which had entered into peace negotiations with the Soviet Government on 16 September and had been informed by the Soviet authorities of their 6 November decision that, should the White Army be allowed to retreat into Estonia, it would be pursued across the border by the Reds.[50] In fact, the Reds attacked Estonian army positions and fighting continued until a cease-fire went into effect on 3 January 1920. Following the Treaty of Tartu most of Yudenich’s soldiers went into exile. Former Imperial Russian and now Finnish Gen. Mannerheim planned an intervention to help the Whites in Russia capture Petrograd. He did not, however, gain the necessary support for the endeavor. Lenin considered it “completely certain, that the slightest aid from Finland would have determined the fate of Petrograd”.

Northern Russia 1919

The British occupied Murmansk and, alongside the Americans, seized Arkhangelsk. With the retreat of Kolchak in Siberia, they pulled their troops out of the cities before the winter trapped them in the port. The remaining White forces under Yevgenii Miller evacuated the region in February 1920.

Bolshevik Movement.jpg

Siberia 1919

Admiral Kolchak reviewing the troops, 1919

At the beginning of March 1919 the general offensive of the Whites on the eastern front began. Ufa was retaken on 13 March; by mid-April, the White Army stopped at the GlazovChistopolBugulmaBuguruslan–Sharlyk line. Reds started their counteroffensive against Kolchak’s forces at the end of April. The Red 5th Army, led by the capable commander Tukhachevsky, captured Elabuga on 26 May, Sarapul on 2 June and Izevsk on the 7th and continued to push forward. Both sides had victories and losses, but by the middle of summer the Red Army was larger than the White Army and had managed to recapture territory previously lost.

Following the abortive offensive at Chelyabinsk, the White armies withdrew beyond the Tobol. In September 1919 a White offensive was launched against the Tobol front, the last attempt to change the course of events. However, on 14 October the Reds counterattacked, and thus began the uninterrupted retreat of the Whites to the east.

On 14 November 1919 the Red Army captured Omsk.[51] Adm. Kolchak lost control of his government shortly after this defeat; White Army forces in Siberia essentially ceased to exist by December. Retreat of the eastern front by White armies lasted three months, until mid-February 1920, when the survivors, after crossing Lake Baikal, reached Chita area and joined Ataman Semenov‘s forces.

South Russia 1919

The Cossacks had been unable to organize and capitalize on their successes at the end of 1918. By 1919 they had begun to run short of supplies. Consequently, when the Soviet counteroffensive began in January 1919 under the Bolshevik leader Antonov-Ovseenko, the Cossack forces rapidly fell apart. The Red Army captured Kiev on 3 February 1919.

White Knight slaying Red Bolshevik Dragon.jpg

White propaganda poster “For United Russia” representing the Bolsheviks as a fallen communist dragon and the White Cause as a crusading knight

Gen. Denikin’s military strength continued to grow in the spring of 1919. During several months in winter and spring of 1919, hard fighting with doubtful outcomes took place in the Donbass, where the attacking Bolsheviks met White forces. At the same time Denikin’s Armed Forces of South Russia (AFSR) completed the elimination of Red forces in the northern Caucasus and advanced towards Tsaritsyn. At the end of April and beginning of May the AFSR attacked on all fronts from the Dnepr to the Volga, and by the beginning of the summer they had won numerous battles. French forces landed in Odessa but, after having done almost no fighting, withdrew on 8 April 1919. By mid-June the Reds were chased from the Crimea and the Odessa area. Denikin’s troops took the cities of Kharkov and Belgorod. At the same time White troops under Wrangel’s command took Tsaritsyn on 17 June 1919. On 20 June Denikin issued his Moscow directive, ordering all AFSR units to prepare for a decisive offensive to take Moscow.

Although Great Britain had withdrawn its own troops from the theater, it continued to give significant military aid (money, weapons, food, ammunition and some military advisors) to the White Armies during 1919. Major Ewen Cameron Bruce of the British Army had volunteered to command a British tank mission assisting the White Army. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order[52] for his bravery during the June 1919 battle of Tsaritsyn for single-handedly storming and capturing the fortified city of Tsaritsyn, under heavy shell fire in a single tank; this led to the capture of over 40,000 prisoners.[53] The fall of Tsaritsyn is viewed “as one of the key battles of the Russian Civil War” which greatly helped the White Russian cause.[53] Notable historian Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart comments that Bruce’s tank action during this battle is to be seen as “one of the most remarkable feats in the whole history of the Tank Corps”.[54]


After the capture of Tsaritsyn, Wrangel pushed towards Saratov but Trotsky, seeing the danger of the union with Kolchak, against whom the Red command was concentrating large masses of troops, repulsed his attempts with heavy losses. When Kolchak’s army in the east began to retreat in June and July, the bulk of the Red Army, free now from any serious danger from Siberia, was directed against Denikin.

Denikin’s forces constituted a real threat and for a time threatened to reach Moscow. The Red Army, stretched thin by fighting on all fronts, was forced out of Kiev on 30 August. Kursk and Orel were taken, on 20 September and 14 October, respectively. The latter, only 205 miles (330 km) from Moscow, was the closest the AFSR would come to its target.[55] The Cossack Don Army under the command of Gen. Vladimir Sidorin continued north towards Voronezh, but there Semyon Budyonny‘s cavalrymen defeated them on 24 October. This allowed the Red Army to cross the Don River, threatening to split the Don and Volunteer Armies. Fierce fighting took place at the key rail junction of Kastornoye, which was taken on 15 November; Kursk was retaken two days later.[56]

American troops in Vladivostok during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War (August 1918)

The high tide of the White movement against the Soviets had been reached in September 1919. By this time Denikin’s forces were dangerously overextended. The White front had no depth or stability—it had become a series of patrols with occasional columns of slowly advancing troops without reserves. Lacking ammunition, artillery and fresh reinforcements, Denikin’s army was decisively defeated in a series of battles in October and November 1919. The Red Army recaptured Kiev on 17 December and the defeated Cossacks fled back towards the Black Sea.

While the White armies were being routed in the center and the east, they had succeeded in driving Nestor Makhno‘s anarchist Black Army (formally known as the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine) out of part of southern Ukraine and the Crimea. Despite this setback, Moscow was loath to aid Makhno and the Black Army and refused to provide arms to anarchist forces in Ukraine. The main body of White forces, the Volunteers and the Don Army, pulled back towards the Don, to Rostov. The smaller body (Kiev and Odessa troops) withdrew to Odessa and the Crimea, which it had managed to protect from the Bolsheviks during the winter of 1919–1920.

Central Asia 1919

By February 1919 the British government had pulled its military forces out of Central Asia.[57] Despite this success for the Red Army, the White Army’s assaults in European Russia and other areas broke communication between Moscow and Tashkent. For a time Central Asia was completely cut off from Red Army forces in Siberia.[58] Although this communication failure weakened the Red Army, the Bolsheviks continued their efforts to gain support for the Bolshevik Party in Central Asia by holding a second regional conference in March. During this conference a regional bureau of Muslim organizations of the Russian Bolshevik Party was formed. The Bolshevik Party continued to try to gain support among the native population by giving them the impression of better representation for the Central Asian population and throughout the end of the year were able to maintain harmony with the Central Asian people.[59]

Communication difficulties with Red Army forces in Siberia and European Russia ceased to be a problem by mid-November 1919. Due to Red Army successes north of Central Asia, communication with Moscow was re-established and the Bolsheviks were able to claim victory over the White Army in Turkestan.[58]

South Russia, Ukraine and Kronstadt 1920–21

Victims of the Russian famine of 1921

By the beginning of 1920 the main body of the Armed Forces of South Russia was rapidly retreating towards the Don, to Rostov. Denikin hoped to hold the crossings of the Don, then rest and reform his troops, but the White Army was not able to hold the Don area and at the end of February 1920, started a retreat across Kuban towards Novorossiysk. Slipshod evacuation of Novorossiysk proved to be a dark event for the White Army. About 40,000 men were evacuated by Russian and Allied ships from Novorossiysk to the Crimea, without horses or any heavy equipment, while about 20,000 men were left behind and either dispersed or captured by the Red Army. Following the disastrous Novorossiysk evacuation, Denikin stepped down and the military council elected Wrangel as the new Commander-in-Chief of the White Army. He was able to restore order to the dispirited troops and reshape an army that could fight as a regular force again. This remained an organized force in the Crimea throughout 1920.

After Moscow’s Bolshevik government signed a military and political alliance with Nestor Makhno and the Ukrainian anarchists, the Black Army attacked and defeated several regiments of Wrangel’s troops in southern Ukraine, forcing him to retreat before he could capture that year’s grain harvest.[60] Stymied in his efforts to consolidate his hold, Wrangel then attacked north in an attempt to take advantage of recent Red Army defeats at the close of the Polish–Soviet War of 1919–1920. This offensive was eventually halted by the Red Army, and Wrangel’s troops were forced to retreat to the Crimea in November 1920 pursued by both the Red and Black cavalry and infantry. Wrangel and the remains of his army were evacuated from the Crimea to Constantinople on 14 November 1920. Thus ended the struggle of Reds and Whites in Southern Russia.

Red Army troops attack Kronstadt sailors in March 1921

After the defeat of Wrangel, the Red Army immediately repudiated its 1920 treaty of alliance with Nestor Makhno and attacked the anarchist Black Army; the campaign to liquidate Makhno and the Ukrainian anarchists began with an attempted assassination of Makhno by Cheka agents. Angered by continued repression by the Bolshevik Communist government and its liberal use of the Cheka to put down anarchist elements, a naval mutiny erupted at Kronstadt, followed by peasant revolts. Red Army attacks on the anarchist forces and their sympathizers increased in ferocity throughout 1921.

Siberia and the Far East 1920–22

In Siberia, Adm. Kolchak’s army had disintegrated. He himself gave up command after the loss of Omsk and designated Gen. Grigory Semyonov as the new leader of the White Army in Siberia. Not long after this Kolchak was arrested by the disaffected Czechoslovak Corps as he traveled towards Irkutsk without the protection of the army, and turned over to the socialist Political Centre in Irkutsk. Six days later this regime was replaced by a Bolshevik-dominated Military-Revolutionary Committee. On 6–7 February Kolchak and his prime minister Victor Pepelyaev were shot and their bodies thrown through the ice of the frozen Angara River, just before the arrival of the White Army in the area.[61]

Remnants of Kolchak’s army reached Transbaikalia and joined Semyonov’s troops, forming the Far Eastern army. With the support of the Japanese army it was able to hold Chita, but after withdrawal of Japanese soldiers from Transbaikalia, Semenov’s position became untenable, and in November 1920 he was driven by the Red Army from Transbaikalia and took refuge in China. The Japanese, who had plans to annex the Amur Krai, finally pulled their troops out as Bolshevik forces gradually asserted control over the Russian Far East. On 25 October 1922 Vladivostok fell to the Red Army, and the Provisional Priamur Government was extinguished.


Ensuing rebellion

In central Asia Red Army troops continued to face resistance into 1923, where basmachi (armed bands of Islamic guerrillas) had formed to fight the Bolshevik takeover. The Soviets engaged non-Russian peoples in Central Asia, like Magaza Masanchi, commander of the Dungan Cavalry Regiment, to fight against the Basmachis. The Communist Party did not completely dismantle this group until 1934.[62]

Gen. Anatoly Pepelyayev continued armed resistance in the Ayano-Maysky District until June 1923. The regions of Kamchatka and Northern Sakhalin remained under Japanese occupation until their treaty with the Soviet Union in 1925, when their forces were finally withdrawn.


Victims of the Red Terror in Crimea, 1918

Street children during the Russian Civil War

The results of the civil war were momentous. Soviet demographer Boris Urlanis estimated the total number of men killed in action in the Civil War and Polish–Soviet War as 300,000 (125,000 in the Red Army, 175,500 White armies and Poles) and the total number of military personnel dead from disease (on both sides) as 450,000.[63]

During the Red Terror, estimates of Cheka executions range from 12,733 to 1.7 million. William Henry Chamberlin suspected that there were about 50,000.[64] Evan Mawdsley suspected that there were more than 12,733, and less than 200,000.[65] Some sources claimed at least 250,000 summary executions of “enemies of the people” with estimates reaching above a million.[66][67][68][69] More modest estimates put the numbers executed by the Bolsheviks between December 1917 and February 1922 at around 28,000 per year, with roughly 10,000 executions during the Red Terror.[70]

Some 300,000–500,000 Cossacks were killed or deported during decossackization, out of a population of around three million.[71] An estimated 100,000 Jews were killed in Ukraine, mostly by the White Army.[72] Punitive organs of the All Great Don Cossack Host sentenced 25,000 people to death between May 1918 and January 1919.[73] Kolchak’s government shot 25,000 people in Ekaterinburg province alone.[74] “White terror” has killed about 300,000 people in total.[75]

At the end of the Civil War the Russian SFSR was exhausted and near ruin. The droughts of 1920 and 1921, as well as the 1921 famine, worsened the disaster still further. Disease had reached pandemic proportions, with 3,000,000 dying of typhus alone in 1920. Millions more also died of widespread starvation, wholesale massacres by both sides and pogroms against Jews in Ukraine and southern Russia. By 1922 there were at least 7,000,000 street children in Russia as a result of nearly ten years of devastation from the Great War and the civil war.[76]

Another one to two million people, known as the White émigrés, fled Russia, many with Gen. Wrangel—some through the Far East, others west into the newly independent Baltic countries. These émigrés included a large percentage of the educated and skilled population of Russia.

The Russian economy was devastated by the war, with factories and bridges destroyed, cattle and raw materials pillaged, mines flooded and machines damaged. The industrial production value descended to one-seventh of the value of 1913 and agriculture to one-third. According to Pravda, “The workers of the towns and some of the villages choke in the throes of hunger. The railways barely crawl. The houses are crumbling. The towns are full of refuse. Epidemics spread and death strikes—industry is ruined.”[citation needed] It is estimated that the total output of mines and factories in 1921 had fallen to 20% of the pre-World War level, and many crucial items experienced an even more drastic decline. For example, cotton production fell to 5%, and iron to 2%, of pre-war levels.

War Communism saved the Soviet government during the Civil War, but much of the Russian economy had ground to a standstill. The peasants responded to requisitions by refusing to till the land. By 1921 cultivated land had shrunk to 62% of the pre-war area, and the harvest yield was only about 37% of normal. The number of horses declined from 35 million in 1916 to 24 million in 1920 and cattle from 58 to 37 million. The exchange rate with the US dollar declined from two rubles in 1914 to 1,200 in 1920.

With the end of the war the Communist Party no longer faced an acute military threat to its existence and power. However, the perceived threat of another intervention, combined with the failure of socialist revolutions in other countries—most notably the German Revolution—contributed to the continued militarization of Soviet society. Although Russia experienced extremely rapid[77] economic growth in the 1930s, the combined effect of World War I and the Civil War left a lasting scar on Russian society and had permanent effects on the development of the Soviet Union.

British historian Orlando Figes has contended that the root of the Whites’ defeat was their inability to dispel the popular image that they were dually associated with Tsarist Russia and supportive of a Tsarist restoration.[78]

Brief Timeline

1920 Nikolayevsk incident:Yakov Triapitsyn massacred most of the inhabitants of the town of Nikolayevsk-on-Amur in the Russian Far East.
  • 25 October 1917—Alexander Kerensky and his supporters flee Petrograd.
  • 5 January 1918—The Red Guard breaks up a meeting of the Constituent Assembly on Lenin’s orders.
  • 28 January 1918—Trotsky sets up the Red army.
  • March 1918—Bolsheviks move the Russian capital to Moscow from Petrograd for protection and better communications, as it is in the center of their territory.
  • 14 October 1919—Gen. Denikin’s army reaches Orel 300 km from Moscow.
  • 22 October 1919—White forces reach the outskirts of Petrograd. Trotsky organizes a counterattack.
  • Early November 1919—Western allies pull the plug on support for the Whites. Troops begin to desert.
  • 7 February 1920—Kolchak is executed by the Bolsheviks after being handed over by the Czechoslovak Legion.
  • April 1920—Poles are driven back into Poland by the Bolsheviks
  • 19 March 1921—Kronstadt uprising crushed
  • 25 October 1922—Provisional Priamurye Government dissolved.
  • 16 June 1923—Yakut revolt put down, ending the last White resistance in Russia.
  • 1934—Basmachi Revolt finally put down.

Retribution for the Reds, 1919-1920. (From the Hoover Poster Collection).jpg

Retribution for the Reds, 1919-1920. (From the Hoover Poster Collection)

Russia and Japan Political Poster 1905.jpg

This poster represents Russia as a warrior beauty and Japan as a dragon-like monster. Japan was an emerging power at the time, and in response to increasing provocation, attacked the Russian navy base in China. As a result, the Russian army suffered a series of defeats, and tens of thousands of troops were killed or captured. The Peace agreement between Russia and Japan was signed in September 1905. 

Russian Civil War (1917-1922).jpg

Russian Civil War (1917-1922)

Trotsky lion. Bolshevik propaganda.jpg

Trotsky lion. Bolshevik propaganda

Anti-Trotsky Poster - Bolshevik Freedom, Poland, c. 1920.jpg

Anti-Trotsky Poster – Bolshevik Freedom, Poland, c. 1920

Poster of a naked, Red Leon Trotsky seated on human skulls holding a bloody dagger and pistol with Death looming over his shoulder

Anti-Jewish, anti-Soviet, Nazi propaganda poster distributed in battleground regions of Poland and Ukraine in 1943. It depicts a skeleton talking to a red, naked Leon Trotsky, who sits upon a pile of human skulls. During the war, Germany sought instances of Soviet perpetrated violence against Polish and local non-Jewish populations to exploit as graphic propaganda that would turn the locals against the Soviets and frighten them into supporting Germany. In 1943, the Germans exploited the discovery of mass graves documenting Soviet atrocities, such as the 1940 Katyn massacre of nearly 4500 Polish Army officers captured as prisoners of war as well as graves from prewar Soviet atrocities, such as Vinnitsa, committed during campaigns of political repression. The Germans then linked these to the always looming threat of the Jewish Bolshevik conspiracy to dominate the world and crush those who opposed them. This poster was originally issued in 1920 by the Polish Ministry of Military Affairs, during the Russo-Polish War. Trotsky, a leader in the Russian Revolution, also built the Red Army, and images of him as a red, bloodthirsty, satanic figure were used by the opposing White Army during the Revolution. This poster is one of more than 900 items in the Katz Ehrenthal Collection of anti-Semitic visual materials.

Artwork Title – Wolnosc Bolszewicka
English Title – Bolshevik Freedom
Date – 1943  (publication/distribution)
distribution : Poland
distribution : Ukraine
Language – Polish
Credit Line – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of the Katz Family

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection Website


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