Tatyana Shvetsova








The Civil war that erupted in Russia right on the heels of the October Socialist Revolution of 1917 ran parallel with the First World War. The then Imperialist Russia entered the war on the side of the Entente Alliance, which also united England and France.

After the October Socialist revolution Russian society was split into the ‘red’ and the ‘white’ camps, those sympathizing with one of the two, or those who refused to accept either. The Entente alliance opted for supporting the ‘white’ movement, since it was a force that spoke out for continuing the war to its logical victorious end. With the purpose of helping the ‘whites’, the Triple Entente launched an intervention into Russia.

From the autumn of 1918 the Alliance significantly broadened the scale of its intervention. It augmented its supplies of military hardware, munitions, equipment and money to the White Guards. Foreign advisers and instructors were rushed to the headquarters of the ‘white’ Generals and Cossack chieftains. These foreigners declared their burning desire to help the Russian people do away with the ‘bolshevist scourge’ and ‘aid them in ‘bringing order to the country’. 

So was this really the case? How did the intervention impact the results of the Civil war in Russia? We shall make an attempt to answer these questions.

Doctor of History Professor Olshtynsky noted that already during World War One the Entente Alliance, while supporting the anti-bolshevist forces, gradually went from ‘concealed’ intervention to open warfare on the territory of Russia, dividing it up into spheres of influence. He wrote, in part: “The idea of dissecting and subjugating Russia was formulated in the decisions of the English-French conference of December 9th-10th 1917, and December 23rd saw the signing of an agreement on joint intervention and division of spheres of influence under the heading “Conditions of the Convention, agreed in Paris on December 23rd 1917”. According to it the English were granted the territory of the Cossacks, Armenia and Georgia; the French zones comprised Bessarabia, Ukraine, Crimea… This plan received complete approval from the USA. According to the American leadership, the dissection of Russia should be carried out by means of ‘acknowledging the provisional governments in different regions of Russia, extending support to these governments…”

The first to launch the intervention was Romania, by occupying Bessarabia in early 1918. On March 9th an English landing party, later joined by French and American troops, came ashore in Murmansk.

In early April 1918 an agreement was reached between the governments of the USA, Japan, Great Britain and France on the beginning of a joint intervention in the Far East and Siberia.

On April 5th the Japanese landed in Vladivostok, to be later joined by American, French and English forces.

After Murmansk was seized, the invaders began to prepare for the capture of Archangel, in the Russian North-West. For this purpose they fanned a ‘white guard’ riot there.

Simultaneously the German forces, violating the peace agreement with Soviet Russia, continued their onslaught and occupied the Crimean Peninsula, after which they seized one of the largest southern towns of Russia – Rostov-on-the-Don, and also the Taman peninsula in the North Caucuses. In the Transcaucuses the Kaiser and Turkish troops were, likewise, proceeding with their advance. On the occupied territories the invaders rooted out Soviet power and established a regime of military terror.”

By that time neither the ‘reds’ nor the ‘whites’ had any doubts that the invaders were not so much aiding the White powers as pursuing their own interests of colonizing Russia.

Even the paragon of Russian liberalism Pavel Miliukov, who was in Great Britain since the beginning of 1919, admitted: “The west is now putting forward in no ambiguous terms the notion of exploiting Russia as a rich in natural wealth colony for providing Europe with raw materials.”

If this was written by so staunch a proponent of western ideals as Miliukov, then we cannot put to doubt the truthfulness of his ‘diagnosis’. 

Winston Churchill rejoiced:

“All Russian territory from the river Volga to the Pacific Ocean, almost equal in size to the African continent, is now under the control of the allies.”

However, this rejoicing was premature. Events took a turn that gradually dimmed the hopes of the invaders. 

As is known, on November 11th 1918 Germany and its allies surrendered to the Entente alliance. Two days later the Soviet government annulled the depredatory Brest accords with Germany.

It likewise succeeded in strengthening its positions inside the country. The threat of their homeland possibly becoming a colony of the West inspired many opponents of Soviet power to side with it in the struggle against the invaders. So in response to the invading onslaught at the end of 1918 a powerful patriotic upsurge swept Russia. There was a steady stream of volunteers to join the Red Army, while the partisan movement gathered force in the occupied territories. 

Those who previously sympathized with the ‘white power’ altered their attitude towards it, since the latter were now regarded in the light of traitors, siding with the invaders. This alone, not to mention other reasons, made the defeat of the ‘whites’ in the Civil war inevitable.

As a result of the successful advance of the Red Army many grain and energy regions of the country were liberated, besides Byelorussia and the Baltics. 40 million people were liberated from foreign occupation. 

In 1919 the ‘white movement’ undertook three powerful onslaughts against Soviet Russia. According to historian Pyotr Deinichenko: “Admiral Kolchak, who launched a successful advance in March, instead of joining up with forces led by General Denikin in the vicinity of the Volga town of Saratov, decided to head for Moscow on his own, nurturing the impetuous plan of capturing it single-handedly. This provided the Red Army with freedom of maneuver, and the opportunity of beating the armies of Kolchak and Denikin separately.

Kolchak was forced to retreat. In his rear a peasants’ revolt erupted, sparked by an ill-thought-out decree on returning the land to its initial owners – the landowners. Red partisans captured Kolchak prisoner and in February of 1920 the Admiral was executed by a firing squad in the Siberian town of Irkutsk.

In the meantime, in the south of Russia, the army of ‘white’ General Anton Denikin was forced to engage in combat with the armies of the Independent Ukraine, where all power was then in the hands of socialist and nationalist Simon Petliura, equally antagonistic towards the ‘reds’ and the ‘whites’. Simon Petliura fought successfully with the Red Army and its ally, notorious anarchist Nestor Makhno. Only after he’d coped with the forces of the Independent Ukraine was Denikin able to launch a powerful offensive. He had at his disposal a 150 thousand strong army and initially his actions were extremely successful. 

However, by spring of 1920 Denikin’s army was ousted from the Russian south, from Ukraine and the north Caucuses, where Soviet power was reestablished. The remnants of Denikin’s army retreated to the Black sea and evacuated from Novorossiysk to Turkey and Crimea. Anton Denikin himself left for Constantinople aboard an English torpedo boat, leaving General Pyotr Wrangel to command the scattered remnants of his army.”

In 1919 Europe and America witnessed a swelling public movement under the slogan “Hands off Soviet Russia!” This movement fomented revolutionary stirrings within the occupationist forces. While earlier, socialist revolutions had taken place in Germany and Austro-Hungary.

The mushrooming of communist parties in many countries of the world led to the formation of the III Communist International, the 1st Congress of which was held in Moscow on March 4th 1919. Addressing it, Vladimir Lenin said this in part:

“Throughout the world the tide is turning towards the revolutionary struggle. The First World War clearly demonstrated that socialism has perished. A new order is coming in its stead. The old word ‘socialism’ has been sullied by traitors to the socialist cause. Now the workers who remain faithful to the notion of overthrowing capitalism are calling themselves ‘communists’. The union of communists is gathering force all across the world. In a number of countries Soviet power has already come out victorious. We do not have long to wait before we shall have cause to rejoice in the triumph of communism throughout the world. We shall witness the founding of the World Federative Republic of the Soviets.”

The International communist movement was gaining strength. This couldn’t but inject the Bolsheviks with additional political support, boosting their morale. In these conditions the invaders were forced to withdraw their troops from Russia. Thus, by March 1920 detachments of the Red Army, actively supported by the partisans and insurgent movement, succeeded in routing all the ‘white’ armies and forcing the invaders out of Russia.

However, after a brief lull the war action resumed. This time against Poland and Pyotr Wrangel.

The regional Russian newspaper “Tver Veche”, recalling the history of Russo-Polish relations, recently wrote:

“As is known, the Polish state was formed in November 1918, after the annulment of the Brest peace accords. From the outset the government of Yusef Pilsudsky adopted an uncompromisingly hostile stance towards Soviet Russia. In February 1919 the Polish Army armed and directly supported by the countries of the Entente Alliance, invaded the territories of Byelorussia and Lithuania. They pursued an aggressively expansionist policy. Thus, the Soviet-Polish front came into being.

The main bulk of the Red Army was concentrated at the time in the East and the South of the country: the Civil war was raging. The scanty soviet troops in the west were unable to fend off the onslaught of the superior bulk of the Polish army. The invaders seized Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine. Then came Kiev.

A leading expert of the history-archive and war memorial centre of the General Staff headquarters of the Russian Federation Mikhail Filimoshin quotes the description of the beginning of the undeclared Polish-Soviet war, that the American representative at the Entente mission in Poland Major-General Kernan sent in his report to the USA President. According to him: “although in Poland all reports and general talk constantly makes mention of the bolsheviks’ aggression, one sees nothing to substantiate this. Quite the opposite, even minor skirmishes on the Eastern borders of Poland sooner testify to aggression on the part of the Poles and their intention of seizing Russian lands as soon as possible.”

Poland sought to reestablish its state within the boundaries dating back to 1772.

In early May the Poles seized Kiev and by the middle of the month reached the left bank of the Dnieper river. In May, however, the Soviet forces launched a counter-offensive.

In less than a month Kiev was recaptured from the Poles. And in July the Red Army under the command of Mikhail Tukhachevsky, and Alexander Yegorov reached the temporary Eastern border of Poland. However, the offensive on Warsaw got bogged down. The Red Army was unable to bring the proletarian revolution to Poland on its bayonets. The moment Mikhail Tukhachevsky’s forces forded the Vistula and approached the outskirts of Warsaw, the Polish workers who had previously sympathized with the Russian proletariat began to perceive Soviet troops as occupationist. This sparked a powerful national movement for liberation. The Soviet-Polish war was brought to a halt by the peace accords, signed in Riga in March 1921. Poland received the territory of Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia.

In April 1920 … in Crimea General Pyotr Wrangel patched together the remnants of Denikin’s army to create the “Russian Army”, proclaiming himself as the “Ruler of the Russian South”. In June his troops began their advance towards Donbass.

The end of the war with Poland enabled the Soviet leadership to concentrate its principal military crack force in the south, to rout General Wrangel – something they succeeded in achieving in November 1920. The remnants of the ‘white’ army evacuated to Turkey.

In their struggle with General Wrangel the Red Armymen were aided by units of anarchists led by Nestor Makhno, who had been lured by promises of broad autonomy by the Bolsheviks. However, when the Revolutionary Military Council of the Southern Front demanded that Makhno reorganize his rebel detachments into regular units and bring them within the fold of the Red Army, the latter rejected the demand. As a result the Makhno forces were proclaimed enemies of the Soviet republic and therefore liable for destruction – something the Bolsheviks eventually achieved, but through tremendous exertions. The fact is, Makhno’s detachments were regularly augmented by the peasants, those who returned from the Civil war fronts and found themselves without any means of livelihood, various declassified elements, criminals and such. To give them their due, Makhno’s army possessed enviable maneuverability. It could swiftly evade pursuit, while making pinpoint attacks at Red army detachments, militia units and population settlements. 

Yet, at the end of August 1921 the Red Army finally succeeded in crushing Makhno. At the head of some 50 mounted troops he fled to Romania

In 1920 Soviet power was established in Central Asia. The Bukhara and Khorezm People’s Soviet republics were formed. Due to efforts of the Red Army in the Transcaucuses, the Soviet Socialist republics of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia were formed. Later they united for a brief spell into the Transcaucasian Federation. 

Thus, by the end of 1920 the Civil war in Russia was practically over. There were only sporadic hotbeds of resistance to soviet power on the outskirts of Russia. Thus, military action persisted in the Far East, where the 100 thousand -strong Japanese army was dislocated: the remnants of Kolchak’s troops and forces led by Grigory Semionov sought refuge within their fold. Thousands of communists and their sympathizers fell victim to their terror.

Pursuing the remnants of the ‘white’ armies, the Red Army reached Lake Baikal. A further advance was fraught with undesirable collision with Japan. So a decision was taken to form the Far-Eastern Republic as a democratic state with a multi-party parliament, which was to serve as a buffer zone between the Russian Soviet federative Socialist Republic and Japan. In November 1922, when the Far East was finally cleared of all vestiges of ‘white’ troops, and Japanese invaders, the Far-Eastern republic was swallowed up by the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic

In the words of historian Pyotr Deinichenko, “By 1922 Soviet power was controlling practically the entire territory of the former Russian Empire, with the exception of Poland, Finland and the Baltics.

The socialists in national republics and autonomies were well aware that without Moscow’s support Soviet power there would constantly be under threat. So in December 1922 all Soviet republics came out with a declaration on the formation of the Soviet Union. It comprised the Russian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian and Transcaucasian Socialist Soviet Republics. Overtime, three more equal Soviet republics emerged in Central Asia – the Tadjik, Kirghis and Kazakh republics. While the Transcaucasian republic broke up into Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. As a result, by 1929 the USSR comprised 11 republics, which formally possessed maximally broad powers, including the right to withdraw from the union. 

In turn, some union republics comprised autonomous republics. Russia boasted the greatest number of these latter.”

Copyright © 2006 The Voice of Russia

Originally published at     01/26/2006