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Civil War, Russian [1918-22]

Дата публикации: 20 сентября 2007
Публикатор: Александр Павлович Шиманский
Рубрика: RUSSIA (TOPICS) - Soviet Russia (1917-53) →
Источник: (c) http://russia.by
Номер публикации: №1190296070 / Жалобы? Ошибка? Выделите проблемный текст и нажмите CTRL+ENTER!

The Russian Revolution of 7 November 1917 was little more than a coup d'état in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The Bolsheviks seized power in the name of the soviets (councils), promising to rule until free elections convened a constituent assembly. After only one session, the Bolsheviks dissolved the assembly. That act, more than any other, sparked the Russian Civil War (1918-22), although it did not fully blossom until after the humiliating peace with Germany in 1918. During the next five years there were concurrent civil wars between revolutionaries, counterrevolutionaries, and ethnic minorities; war with Poland; foreign intervention; and implementation of revolutionary socialism under the banner War Communism. Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland won their independence, while Poland, Turkey, and Romania acquired pieces of the Soviet borderlands. The civil war was the class struggle that the revolution bypassed. It shaped the institutions and perceptions of the Soviet state and resulted in the adoption of autocratic institutions to stamp out counterrevolution.

Beginning of the Civil War

It is difficult to state exactly when the civil war began. Socialist revolutionary terror, including an assassination attempt on Lenin in August 1918 and an uprising in July 1918, failed to dislodge the Bolsheviks, who retaliated with Red Terror on a scale unmatched by the czars. Because Lenin had promised "peace, land, and bread," he declared an armistice with Germany in December 1917, stating, "No war, no peace," The Russian army dissolved as soldiers "voted with their feet," and the German army moved into the void and seized huge tracts of land. Lenin conceded defeat in order to save the revolution (Treaty of Brest Litovsk, 3 March 1918). Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, the Ukraine, and Finland received their freedom as puppet states of the Germans. Only Germany's defeat in the west (November 1918) saved the treaty from full implementation.

The former czarist chief of staff, Gen. M. W. Alekseev (1857-1918), created an anti-Bolshevik "White" army early in 1918, but he died soon afterward of natural causes. His successor, Gen. L. G. Kornilov (1870-1918), the former commander in chief of the provisional government's army, who had led an aborted counterrevolution against Kerensky, was captured in March 1918 during an attack on Ekaterinodar and executed. The subsequent leader of the White movement in the south was Gen. A. I. Denikin (1872-1947), the former commander of the western front, who had been imprisoned for his part in the Kornilov affair against Kerensky, escaped and joined Alekseev's forces in the Don. In the north, the French and British supported a secessionist government under the socialist Nikolai Chaikovsky. To the west, in Estonia, a force under Gen. Nikolai Iudenich threatened Petrograd. A bizarre twist occurred in May of 1918 when 40,000 Czech prisoners of war, being transported to Vladivostok via the Trans-Siberian Railroad, mutinied and fought to throw off Bolshevik rule in Siberia. Within three months nearly 8,000 kilometers (5,000 mi.) of railroad were under Czech control. On 8 June, a Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly formed a government in Samara (on the Volga River). A provisional Siberian government (the All-Russian Directory) founded in Omsk in June 1918 was joined by the Ural and Orenburg cossacks. On 16 July a local Bolshevik commander executed the royal family in Ekaterinburg when White forces approached.

National Liberation Movements

The drive for independence by ethnic minorities of the Russian Empire did not rest solely with German initiatives. Finland, the Baltic states, and Belorussia had already declared their independence in 1917. In 1918, the Ukraine, Poland, and the Transcaucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia did so as well. The Bolsheviks claimed a doctrine of self-determination but wanted to keep the multinational empire intact. Lenin was interested in the international class struggle and world revolution, not the creation on the borderlands of the Crimean Tatar, Bashkir, Kirghiz, and Kokand republics, the emirates of Bokhara and Khiva, or the Menshevik-dominated Caucasus states. Once the Red Army had expelled the more threatening White armies and it was apparent that world revolution was not going to occur, the Bolsheviks moved in on these smaller states and brought them back under control, except for the Baltic states. Poland, and Finland.

Foreign Intervention

Foreign intervention actually began in February 1918 when German, Austrian, and Turkish troops seized huge chunks of Russian territory. Fourteen allied nations also sent troops and supplies, originally to defend war supplies shipped to the provisional government in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, but later to contain and overthrow the revolution and keep it from spreading to Western Europe. Allied participation has been exaggerated by historians and Bolshevik propagandists. Japan's intervention was the largest (more than 60,000 troops). It backed Gregory Semenov in eastern Siberia in hopes of expanding onto the Asian continent and regaining the northern half of Sakhalin Island. (The Japanese did not withdraw their troops until 1922 and kept Sakhalin Island until 1925.) The United Kingdom sent about 40,000 troops, but confined most of its operations to Denikin in the southeast around the Black Sea and in the north. The French and Greeks each sent two divisions but centered their operations in the southwest (Black Sea and Crimea). The United States sent about 10,000 men to the north and Siberia. The most influential intervention force, the Czechs, was not "sent" at all. Most of the aid from the Allies went to train and supply White troops, but the bulk of such efforts occurred in the summer of 1919 after the crucial battles had already been lost. No major battles were fought between the Allies and Bolsheviks. The Allies' blockade of October 1919-January 1920 (too little, too late) was most significant in evacuating troops and civilians once the tide of battle had turned. The Allies' home front was tired of war and wanted their boys to come home, West European states were more interested in redrawing the map in Central Europe and the new League of Nations than in the civil war in Russia.

Denikin's "Volunteer Army"

The greatest threat to Soviet rule was General Denikin's White Volunteer Army, joined in the summer of 1918 by the Kuban and Don cossacks. During the spring of 1919, a circle of enemies threatened the Bolshevik center from all sides. A Red Army was growing, but there were not enough troops to fight in all the border areas. Denikin's army, composed mainly of former czarist officers and Don cossacks, occupied the Ukraine and advanced on Moscow, the new capital. By October 1919, Denikin had victory within his grasp, but then everything fell apart. A Russian nationalist, Denikin wanted to retain the integrity and institutions of the former empire. He refused to institute a land-reform program to win the support of the peasantry, and his civil administration was inefficient. Initial successes were due more to Bolshevik weaknesses than to his generalship. Denikin conquered nearly 910,000 square kilometers (350,000 sq. mi.) of land from the overextended Red Army (which had to fight through the Ukraine to reach him), but he was unable to consolidate his gains or secure local peasant or cossack support. He fought in isolation and was unable--or unwilling--to link up with the Siberian resistance. After defeating Iudenich in Estonia, the Red Army was able to confront him piecemeal and force him back to the sea, where he was replaced by Baron P. N. Wrangel (1878-1928).

Kolchak's Offensive in Siberia

The Siberian provisional government proclaimed the former commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Adm. A. V. Kolchak (1875-1920), Supreme Ruler of Russia--that is, military dictator--following a coup on 17 November 1918. Kolchak received Western military aid and in the spring of 1919 he launched the Ufa offensive, advancing 400 kilometers (250 mi.) in eight weeks and almost reaching the Volga. However, the spring thaw set in and his army, mired in mud, fell victim to a Red counteroffensive. He was also hampered by poor military organization and logistics, a lack of popular support following his coup, an inefficient government, and a conservative economic policy that refused concessions to the peasants. In November 1919, Omsk fell. Kolchak was captured and executed by the Bolsheviks on 7 February 1920.

The Russo-Polish War of 1920-21

The liberation of Poland from the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and German partitioning powers created a new state, bound together by a fierce national identity and strong historic ambitions, existing in a political vacuum in which borders were determined by the most powerful state. The Allies supported the Curzon line along the Bug River (which matched ethnic lines) for the eastern border. The Poles, under Marshal Joseph Pilsudski (1867-1935), dreamed of re-creating the medieval Polish kingdom that had stretched from the Baltic to the Ukraine. On 25 April 1920, the Poles launched an attack against the newly independent Ukrainian state; by 6-7 May they had conquered Kiev, throwing out both the Ukrainian nationalists and the Red army. The overextended Polish force was vulnerable to a Bolshevik counterattack under Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky (1893-1937) and S. M. Budenny (1888-1973), who fought their way to the Vistula River and the very "gates of Warsaw" (16-25 August). The Soviets, however, were hampered by poor transportation, a shortage of trained troops, and command conflicts between Tukhachevsky aud Egorov/Stalin. With the help of French advisers and military aid, the Poles defeated the counterattack. The Treaty of Riga (18 March 1921) secured a Polish state (smaller in real territory than when the war began) and Bolshevik survival.

The Last Gasp of Wrangel

In April 1920, the last White army was commanded by Baron Wrangel, a brilliant czarist officer who had commanded a cavalry brigade at the age of 39 and won fame for his defense of Tsaritsyn against Voroshilov. Wrangel did have a land-reform program and attempted to rule without alienating the peasants with food requisitioning, but his goal was not to overthrow Bolshevism. He simply wanted to withdraw his forces. By 1920, it was too late to change the course of the civil war and the battle-hardened Red army could now concentrate on isolated White remnants. Wrangel successfully evacuated nearly 150,000 soldiers and civilians from five ports on the Black Sea in November 1920. For all practical purposes the war was over.

Why Bolshevik Success?

The Whites were united only in that they were all anti-Bolshevik. They were nationalistic Russians who wanted to oust Bolshevism and re-create the old empire; each general saw himself as the new ruler. This inability to link up and provide a united campaign hurt them because it made it possible for the Soviets to pick them off one at a time.

The war-weary foreign interventionists also lacked common goals; they had no clear support for any one army and no clear objective. Allied success in the West kept the Germans from overthrowing the Bolsheviks.

National revolts were separate and small; none could confront the Soviets alone. Only those with excellent leaders (Mannerheim in Finland) or foreign support (the Baltic states) were able to retain their freedom. The Poles were a threat, but all they wanted was statehood, not the overthrow of Lenin.

White Terror and Leftist Terror (Socialist revolutionaries) were matched atrocity for atrocity by Red Terror. The Red army under Trotsky, reinforced by czarist officers (specialists) such as Vatsetis and Kamenev and converts such as Mikhail Tukhachevsky, was a match for the Whites.

The Bolshevik heartland between Moscow and Petrograd, comprising over 2.5 million square kilometers (nearly 1 million sq. mi.), 60 million people, and an excellent railway system, provided enough land in the center to trade space for time. The Bolsheviks promised "peace, land, and bread," and at great cost provided it. Their claim to rule in the name of the independently elected soviets also gained national support.


The Russian Revolution of November 1917 was a political coup in a power vacuum in isolated cities. The civil war, as a social, economic, political, and military force, was the real revolution in Russia.

-- Dianne L. Smith


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Опубликовано 20 сентября 2007 года

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