The Bolshevik government and a number of rebel forces fought a civil war in Russia after the October Revolution in 1917. Even though it is commonly assumed that the civil war began in 1918, the intense fighting began in 1917. Despite the fact that most of the warfare had ceased by 1920, the Bolsheviks, who had controlled Russia’s industrial core from the start, took until 1922 to eliminate all opposition.
The War’s Emergence: The Establishment of Reds and Whites
The socialist Bolsheviks had assumed charge of Russia’s electoral heart in 1917, after the second revolution in a year. They used force to evict the elected Constitutional Assembly and outlawed opposition parties; it was obvious that they meant to establish a dictatorship. However, there was still strong resistance to the Bolsheviks, including from the army’s right-wing element, which formed a volunteer battalion of hardline anti-Bolsheviks in the Kuban Steppes. By June 1918, this force had weathered the terrible Russian winter, fighting the ‘First Kuban Campaign,’ also called as the ‘Ice March,’ a fifty-day conflict and movement against the Reds that saw their commander Kornilov (who may have plotted a revolt in 1917) dead.
Localized military revolts on the outskirts of the Russian empire did take advantage of the confusion to claim independence, and the Bolsheviks took control of practically the whole periphery of Russia in 1918. When the Bolsheviks signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, they provoked even more opposition. Despite the fact that the Bolsheviks had earned some support by pledging to end the war, the conditions of the peace accord drove non-Bolsheviks on the left to divide. The Bolsheviks retaliated by banning them from the Soviet Union and deploying a secret police force against them. Additionally, Lenin desired a bloody civil war so that he could clear out the huge opposition in one easy step.
Foreign forces also enlisted in the military opposition to the Bolsheviks. The Western powers were still battling in World War 1 and hoped to open the eastern front in order to draw German forces away from the west or just to stop the weak Soviet government from letting Germans free rein in freshly seized Russian territory. Later, the allies took action to ensure the return of renationalised foreign investments and to defend their new allies. Winston Churchill was one of the promoters for a war effort. The British, French, and Americans landed a small expeditionary force in Murmansk and Archangel to achieve this.
Apart from these factions, the 40,000-strong Czechoslovak Legion, which had been fighting for freedom against Germany and Austria-Hungary, was given permission to leave Russia via the former empire’s eastern frontier. The Legion, however, resisted the Red Army’s order to disarm during a fight and seized control of local facilities, including the crucial Trans-Siberian Railway. The date and time of these attacks (May 25th, 1918) are often incorrectly referred to as the beginning of the Conflict, but the Czech legion did immediately take a large territory, especially when compared to the armies of World War 1, by catching nearly the entire railway and with it access to vast areas of Russia. In order to fight Germany once more, the Czechs decided to join forces with anti-Bolshevik troops. The chaos enabled anti-Bolshevik forces to organize here, and new White armies arose.
The Reds and Whites’ Characteristics
The ‘Reds’ had created a circle around the capital. They had a coherent strategy, albeit it evolved as the war continued under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. They were fighting to keep Russia together and maintain authority. Despite socialist objections, Trotsky and Bonch-Bruevich (an important ex-Tsarist commander) pragmatically formed them along traditional military lines and used Tsarist officers.
Ex-members of the Tsar’s elite joined in droves because they had little choice once their pensions were withdrawn. The Reds now controlled the important supply regions for both men and material and had access to the rail network’s center, enabling them to deploy troops quickly. With a community of sixty million people, the Reds could overwhelm their enemies. When it was essential, the Bolsheviks cooperated with other socialist groups such as that of the Mensheviks and SRs, however when the opportunity came up, they turned against them. As a result, the Reds were almost entirely Bolshevik by the end of the civil war.
The Whites were not a well-coordinated group. In reality, they were composed of ad hoc organizations antagonistic to both the Bolsheviks and each other, and they were outnumbered and overstretched due to their control over a smaller population over a large area. As a consequence, they were unable to form a single front and were forced to operate under their own. The Bolsheviks saw the struggle as a battle between their workers and Russia’s aristocratic and middle classes, as well as a fight between socialism and international capitalism. Land reforms were not acknowledged by the Whites, so they did not convert the peasants to their cause, and nationalist movements were not acknowledged by the Whites, so they lost a lot of support.While Russia’s masses had moved on, the Whites were rooted in the old Tsarist and monarchical regime.
By the middle of June 1918, the civil war had been fully joined on many fronts. In Volga, the SRs formed their own country, but their communist army was annihilated. A five-man Directory emerged from an attempt by Komuch, the Siberian Provisional Government, and others in the east to form a unified government. However, it was taken over by a coup led by Admiral Kolchak, who was named Supreme Ruler of Russia. Anti-Bolshevik socialists were forced out by Kolchak and his right-leaning police, who were afraid of them.
After it, Kolchek established a military dictatorship. Kolchak was not put in power by foreign partners, as the Bolsheviks later claimed; in contrast, the Bolsheviks were opposed to the coup. Japanese troops had already landed in the Far East, while the French arrived in the Crimea through the south and the British in the Caucuses in late 1918.
Meanwhile, World War I had ended, and the European powers that had been engaged in foreign intervention had simply lost their primary reason. France and Italy called for a massive military involvement, whereas Britain and the United States were less enthusiastic. The Whites urged them to stay, claiming that the Reds posed a major threat to Europe, but European intervention was pulled back after a succession of failed peace talks. Weapons and equipment were, however, still imported to the Whites. The possible impacts of any serious military effort by the Allies are being debated, and Allied supplies took ages to arrive, usually coming later in the war.
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