Russian Civil War

The Russian Civil War

The Bolsheviks had seized power using force. They were opposed by other groups from day one of their rule. This opposition to the Bolsheviks, and the attempts of their opponents to overthrow them, turned into a bitter war for control of Russia.

Immediately after the Bolsheviks seized power, Kerensky had led an attempt to seize power back from the Bolsheviks. The Red Guard was too powerful though, and Kerensky and his supporters had to withdraw.

Following this attempt to prevent the Revolution succeeding there was a period of steady consolidation of power in and around St Petersburg and Moscow. The calling of elections and moves to improve conditions in the cities doing much to secure the Bolshevik’s position in the towns and cities.

Organised opposition and armed attempts to overthrow the Bolsheviks were caused by a number of things:

  1. The Treaty of Brest Litovsk. Many people were bewildered at the terms of the treaty.
  2. The Red Guard being used to impose Bolshevik rule.
  3. The Czech Legion (prisoners of war) mutinied and took control of the Trans Siberian Railway.
  4. National groups attempted to take control of their own lands.
  5. Tsarists, Liberals, Mensheviks and other political opponents of the regime organised rebellion.

Foreign powers supported the opponents of the Bolsheviks. This included soldiers from Britain, France, the USA and Japan being sent to Russia along with arms, funding and munitions to support the ‘White’ armies. These combined in the East and attacked along the Trans Siberian Railway. In July 1918 the Tsar and his family were murdered as White forces approached their place of arrest, Ekaterinburg. The Whites advanced as far as Perm. However, in 1919 the forces of General Kolchak were defeated by the Red Army. This resulted in most foreign troops being withdrawn from the Russian Civil War, though funding continued. The Red Army then advanced north, taking Archangel and to the south it defeated opponents in the Caucasus. By the end of 1920, armed opponents of the Bolsheviks had been defeated and Bolshevik control imposed over the country.

An armoured train used in the Russian Civil War.

Image: Forces of the White Army alongside an armoured train in 1918.

The Bolsheviks were successful for several reasons:

  1. They were organised and united, unlike their opponents who were spread around the outskirts of Russia and often argued amongst themselves
  2. They controlled the Industrial centres
  3. They had a clear vision and a determination
  4. In Trotsky, they had a great leader

Consequences of the Russian Civil War

The war caused disease and starvation which killed millions of people. It shattered Russia’s already frail economy – industrial production at the end of the war was 1/7th that of 1913 production figures.

The war also led to complaints about War Communism and Bolshevik policies. In 1921 sailors at Krondstadt, who had always been supporters of the bolsheviks, mutinied in protest at conditions. This shocked Lenin and was one of the reasons why War Communism was replaced by the New Economic Policy.

Russian and Soviet HistoryRussian History Homepage
Russia before the First World WarOpposition to Tsarist RuleImpact of the First World War
1917: Abdication of Tsar Nicholas IIBolshevik RevolutionLenin and the Bolshevik Revolution
Leon TrotskyBolshevik Rule 1918-1924Russian Civil War
New Economic PolicyLenin's LegacyDevelopment of Communist Rule
Life in the Soviet UnionFailure of Reform and Decline of the Communist StateStalinism
Collectivisation of Soviet AgricultureWomen in the USSRDe-Stalinisation
Khruschev's Reform ProgrammeDecline of the Soviet UnionCollapse of the Soviet Union
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