Russian Civil War

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The Russian Civil War (Russian: Гражданская война в России, tr. Grazhdanskaya voyna v Rossii) was a multi-party civil war in the former Russian Empire immediately after the two 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 favouring political monarchism, capitalism and social democracy, each with democratic and anti-democratic variants. In addition, rival militant socialists, notably Makhnovia anarchists and Left SRs, as well as non-ideological Green armies and independence-seeking minority groups, opposed the Reds, the Whites and foreign interventionists. Thirteen foreign nations intervened against the Red Army, notably the former Allied military forces from the just-concluded World War with the goal of re-establishing the Eastern Front. Three foreign nations of the Central Powers also intervened, rivaling the Allied intervention with the main goal of retaining the territory they had received in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Russian Civil War montage
"Why aren't you in the Army?"
Russian civil war in the west
Red Army emblem of 1919-1922
White Army appeal to volunteers, 1918-1919
Anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army infantry company
Mark V tank on display in Arkhangelsk in 2011, captured by the Red Army from the White Russian Army
Dismembered Russia — Some Fragments (NYT article, Feb. 17, 1918)




  • In one of the ugliest wars of the twentieth century, the new Bolshevik government of Russia consolidated its power, fighting off numerous White armies consisting of monarchists and those who favored a less drastic form of socialism, as well as nationalist armies from border states such as the Ukraine, and the intervening forces of fourteen different foreign countries. In a conflict that raged across the length and breadth of the former Russian Empire, millions of lives were lost and the Soviet Union was eventually born, with its leaders scarred by terror, deeply paranoid, and xenophobic. The result was the autocratic USSR of Stalin's terror purges, the gulag, and the Cold War.
    • Joseph Cummings, The War Chronicles, From Flintlocks To Machine Guns: A Global Reference of All the Major Modern Conflicts (2009), p. 248














  • Aware that to establish a solid political base and carry out his revolutionary program he needed time, in March 1918 Lenin had his lieutenants sign at Brest-Litovsk a highly unpopular peace treaty with the Germans, Austrians, Turks, and Bulgarians in which he surrendered vast territories. And he unleashed a civil war in Russia as a prelude to the worldwide revolution, his ultimate objective. The Bolsheviks subsequently liked to blame the civil war that ravaged Russia for three years, claiming millions of lives, on Russian reactionaries and their foreign supporters. But, as we have noted, the transformation of the war from a conflict between nations to one between classes had been a central plank in the Bolshevik platform long before 1917. Trotsky admitted that much when he wrote, “Soviet authority is organized civil war.” In fact, it may be said that the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in order to make civil war.
  • The history of Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1920 need not detain us. Suffice it to say that the Communists—the name the Bolsheviks adopted in 1918—won the civil war, in part because they controlled the populous center of the country, where the bulk of its industrial (and military) assets were located, in part because the Western powers extended to their opponents, known as “Whites,” only halfhearted support. In the course of the civil war and soon after its conclusion, the regime reconquered most of the non-Russian borderlands—the Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central Asia—which had previously separated themselves. These were merged with Soviet Russia to form, in 1924, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. All the territories of the new empire were ruled, in fact if not in theory, by the same Russian Communist Party with headquarters in Moscow. Its branches penetrated every segment of organized life, serving, to use a term coined by Mussolini, who would model his Fascist rule on Lenin’s, as the “capillary organization of the regime.” No organization, not even of the most innocuous kind, could escape the Communist Party’s control. Thus emerged the first one-party state in history.



From the Red Army {original composer uncredited}
A marching song lampooning the Whites, as well as the intervention of foreign governments:
The uniforms are British
The epaulettes from France
Japan sends tobacco, and
Kolchak leads the dance

The uniforms are tattered
The epaulettes are gone
So is the tobacco, and
Kolchak's day is done









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