|Russian Civil War|
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 Czech troops, April 1918.
Bolshevik Party (not in power until 7 November 1917)
Soviet Union (from 30 December 1922)
Red Guards and later
Red Army (from 28 January 1918)
Black Army (allied with the Bolsheviks until 1920)
Mountainous Republic of the North Caucasus
Russian Republic (to 7 November 1917)
Cossacks: Allied Intervention (1918–1922):
|Central Powers (1917–1918):|
Local nationalist movements, national states, and decentralist movements
|3,000,000||2,400,000 White Russians, 155,000 in Allied intervention.||several hundred thousand est.|
|Casualties and losses|
|1,212,824 casualties Records are incomplete.||At least 1,500,000||?|
The Russian Civil War (1917–1923) was a multi-party war that occurred within the former Russian Empire after the Russian provisional government collapsed to the Soviets, under the domination of the Bolshevik party. Soviet forces first assumed power in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and subsequently gained control throughout Russia.
The principal fighting occurred between the Bolshevik Red Army, often in temporary alliance with other leftist pro-revolutionary groups, and the forces of the White Army, the loosely-allied anti-Bolshevik forces. Many foreign armies warred against the Red Army, notably the Allied Forces, and many volunteer foreigners fought on both sides of the Russian Civil War. The Polish–Soviet War is often viewed as a theatre of the conflict. Other nationalist and regional political groups also participated in the war, including the Ukrainian nationalist Green Army, the Ukrainian anarchist Black Army and Black Guards, and warlords such as Ungern von Sternberg.
The most intense fighting took place from 1918 to 1920. Major military operations ended on 25 October 1922 when the Red Army occupied Vladivostok, previously held by the Provisional Priamur Government. The last enclave of the White Forces was the Ayano-Maysky District on the Pacific coast, where General Anatoly Pepelyayev did not capitulate until 17 June 1923.
After the abdication of Nicholas II of Russia, the Russian Provisional Government was established during the February Revolution of 1917. In the following October Revolution, the Red Guard, armed groups of workers and deserting soldiers directed by the Bolshevik Party, seized control of Saint Petersburg (then known as Petrograd) and began an immediate armed takeover of cities and villages throughout the former Russian Empire. In January 1918, the Bolsheviks had the Russian Constituent Assembly dissolved, proclaiming the Soviets as the new government of Russia.
The Bolsheviks decided to make peace immediately with the German Empire and the Central Powers, as they had promised the Russian people prior to the Revolution. Vladimir Lenin's political enemies attributed this decision to his sponsorship by the foreign office of Wilhelm II, German Emperor, offered by the latter in hopes that with a revolution, Russia would withdraw from World War I. This suspicion was bolstered by the German Foreign Ministry's sponsorship of Lenin's return to Petrograd.
On 16 December 1917 an armistice was signed between Russia and the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk and peace talks began. 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".
In view of this, on 18 February 1918, the Germans began an all-out advance on the Eastern Front, encountering virtually no resistance in a campaign that lasted eleven days. 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 were 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 1918. 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, which created several short-lived satellite buffer states within its sphere of influence in Finland (the "Kingdom of Finland"), Poland (the "Kingdom of Poland"), Lithuania (the "Kingdom of Lithuania"), Latvia and Estonia (the "Duchy of Courland and Semigallia"), Belarus (the "Belarusian People’s Republic"), Ukraine (the "Hetmanate"), and Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan (the "Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic"). Following the defeat of Germany in World War I, the Soviets eventually recovered some of the territories they gave up, though several of these countries remained independent, or were occupied by other nations until the onset of World War II.
In the wake of the October Revolution, the old Russian Imperial Army had been demobilized; the volunteer-based Red Guard was the Bolsheviks' main military force, augmented by an armed military component of the Cheka, the Bolshevik state security apparatus. In January, after significant reverses in combat, War Commissar Leon Trotsky headed the reorganization of the Red Guard into a Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, in order to create a more professional fighting force. Political commissars were appointed to each unit of the army to maintain morale and ensure loyalty.
In June 1918, when it became apparent that a revolutionary army composed solely of workers would be far too small, Trotsky instituted mandatory conscription of the rural peasantry into the Red Army. Opposition of rural Russians to Red Army conscription units was overcome by taking hostages and shooting them when necessary in order to force compliance. Former Tsarist officers were utilized as "military specialists" (voenspetsy), sometimes taking their families hostage in order to ensure loyalty. At the start of the war, three quarters of the Red Army officer corps was composed of former Tsarist officers. By its end, 83% of all Red Army divisional and corps commanders were ex-Tsarist soldiers.
In the elections to the Constituent Assembly, the Bolsheviks constituted a minority of the vote and dissolved it. In general, they had support primarily in the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets and some other industrial regions.
While resistance to the Red Guard began on the very next day after the Bolshevik uprising, the Brest-Litovsk treaty and the political ban became a catalyst 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 land-owners, 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 foreign influence and led by General Yudenich, Admiral Kolchak and General Denikin, became known as the White movement (sometimes referred to as the "White Army"), and they controlled significant parts of the former Russian empire for most of the war.
A Ukrainian nationalist movement known as the Green Army was active in Ukraine in the early part of 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 General Denikin's White Army offensive towards Moscow during 1919, later ejecting Cossack forces from the Crimea.
The Western Allies also expressed their dismay at the Bolsheviks, (1) upset at the withdrawal of Russia from the war effort, (2) worried about a possible Russo-German alliance, and perhaps most importantly (3) galvanised by the prospect of the Bolsheviks making good their threats to assume no responsibility for, and so default on, Imperial Russia's massive foreign loans; the legal notion of odious debt had not yet been formulated. In addition, there was a concern, shared by many Central Powers as well, that the socialist revolutionary ideas would spread to the West. 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".
The majority of the fighting ended in 1920 with the defeat of General Pyotr Wrangel in the Crimea, but a notable resistance in certain areas continued until 1923 (e.g. Kronstadt Uprising, Tambov Rebellion, Basmachi Revolt, and the final resistance of the White movement in the Far East).
In the European part of Russia the war was fought across three main fronts; the eastern, the southern and the north-western. It can also be roughly split into the following periods.
The first period lasted from the Revolution until the Armistice. Already on the date of the Revolution, Cossack General Kaledin refused to recognize it and assumed full governmental authority in the Don region, 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.
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 Czechoslovaks, known as the Czechoslovak Legion or "White Czechs", 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 General Denikin), the east (under Admiral Kolchak) and the northwest (under General Yudenich) were successful, forcing the Red Army and its leftist allies back on all three fronts. In July 1919, the Red Army suffered another reverse after a mass defection of Red Army 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. Wrangel had gathered the remnants of the Denikin's armies, occupying much of the Crimea. An attempted invasion of the 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.
The last period of 1921–1923 was characterized by three main events. The first was the defeat and liquidation of Nestor Makhno's anarchist Black Army, together with various other allied dissident leftist movements in Russia. The second was the escalation of peasant uprisings, which had commenced in 1918, but were fueled by the disbandment of local self-government in Ukraine and the demobilization of the Red Army. The last was the continued resistance of White Army, Islamic (Basmachi), and autonomous nationalist forces against Bolshevik rule in Eastern Siberia (Transbaikalia, Yakutia), Central Asia, and the Russian Far East. In Soviet historiography the end of the Civil War is dated by the fall of Vladivostok on 25 October 1922, though armed hostilities in the far provinces against Bolshevist rule continued into 1923.
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 quickly put down by the Red Guards, notably the Latvian rifle Division under I.I. Vatsetis. 1923
The initial groups that fought against the Communists were local Cossack armies that had declared their loyalty to the Provisional Government. Prominent among them were Kaledin of the Don Cossacks and Semenov of the Siberian Cossacks. The leading Tsarist officers of the old regime also started to resist. In November, General Alekseev, the Tsar's Chief-of-Staff during the First world war, began to organize a 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 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. At the beginning of December 1917, groups of volunteers and Cossacks captured Rostov.