In 1917, the First World War was raging in Europe and all around the globe. In the east,
Russia was a force to be reckoned with, especially due to its enormous size. But the country did not stay around until the end of the war. Because of internal conflict and general lack of resources, they made a hasty peace with Germany, before stepping back. The Russian
revolution(s) during 1917 resulted in the rise of Communism at the hands of Vladimir Lenin,
as well as the downfall of the great Russian empire. However, not everyone was happy with
the outcome of the revolution, resulting in a four year long civil war.
Causes of the civil war
When the Bolsheviks had taken power in October 1917, they marked the beginning of the
third political system in just seven months, so people were not overly confident in their
ability to hold the power. After the “second revolution”, in which the Bolsheviks had
overthrown the provisional government, the Russian population was starting to grow more
critical towards Lenin and his new political system.
The Russian Civil War was fought between two different sides. The first one was the Red
Bolsheviks; communists who had overthrown the autocracy in the february revolution, lead
by Vladimir Lenin. On the other side was the Whites, 18 ununited groups that for various
reasons were unhappy with the way Russia was ruled. During the first months, a third group-
the Greens, were also present. They put up a couple of rival governments, but were soon overthrown by the Whites, who wished to restore the old system. Whilst the Red side was a homogenous group with very specific goals, the white side was rather diverse. It consisted of everything from former Imperial officers to nationalistic minorities.
Course of the war
The official dates for the Russian Civil War differs. Since it was a civil war there was no
official declaration of war, but most sources place anywhere between 1917 and 1922, with
some claiming the actual war only lasted from 1918 - 1920. During the first months, the
conflict was mainly between the Reds and the previously mentioned Greens (the Socialist
Revolutionaries). The Greens worked mostly in the east, setting up their own governments.
But by the middle of 1918, the threat was eliminated through military coups.
The second phase of the Civil War came in form of the widespread White offense all over
Russia. The cossacks in the south were swiftly defeated, but in the east things got more
complicated. British enforced troops led by Russian commander Alexander Kolchak, as well
as Japanese soldiers managed to reach far into Siberia before being pushed back by the Red
Army. Other foreign forces, representing the allied nations during the first world war, fought alongside the white army in the north and west of Russia. But by 1920, the Bolsheviks had
managed to win on all fronts, and the foreign nations withdrew. Finally, during the last years
the battle was mainly between the Reds and the remains of the Greens.
The Greens were composed of mostly peasants, whose main point of anger was the fact that the communists
wanted control of their crops and livestock. They were defeated in 1922, partly because of
their poor coordination and lack of plans for the future.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding why the allied countries interfered in the
internal conflicts of Russia. Lenin himself held the view that it was in order to oppose
communism, and out of fear for this revolutionary regime to spread. The foreign powers also
thought that if another regime than the Bolsheviks were established, they would have Russia
re-enter the First World War, opening up another front on which to fight the Germans.
Reasons behind the Bolshevik victory
One of the main reasons behind why the Bolsheviks were able to win the war and
consequently remain in power was the division within the opposition. The Whites had posed
a big threat in the beginning of the war, but as the months passed it became more and more
apparent that they had no common aim and a poorly coordinated military.Whilst the
bolsheviks united behind Lenin, the Whites were composed of groups with very different
ideologies and leaders. Due to the internal power struggle this presented, it was easier for the
Reds to defeat them one by one. The division along with the lack of a clear goal also lead to
the desertion of many soldiers.
Also, whilst the bolsheviks had a very clear vision of the world they wanted to see after the
civil war, the Whites and Greens did not. They did not really have a plan, they only hated the
others. This became a problem when it came to recruiting soldiers and such, as people were
less motivated to fight when they did not know what the leaders wanted. Furthermore, the
allied intervention was also one of the leading causes for the Bolsheviks success. When the
foreign nations entered the war, people saw it as a threat to Russia as a whole. Many Russians
felt that they were now fighting to defend their country against foreigners.
Consequences of the war
The main consequence of the Russian civil war was of course that the bolsheviks remained
in power. They had been tested by their own people as well as by foreign nations and
proven that they were a force to be reckoned with.
Another important effect was the formation of the USSR (The Soviet union), that was
composed of Russia as well as several other Eurasian countries. This treaty was signed in
1922 and meant that all of these countries now were under Lenin’s rule.
Furthermore, the war also had consequences during the course of it. Lenin established
something called War Communism, that was supposed to radicalise the economy. This did
however fail tremendously. The Civil War did lead to the creation of a secret police though,
Cheka, that controlled the population.
The Russian Civil War was one of the most complicated conflicts in modern history, with
many different participants and conflicting ideas. It was caused by political instability and
general dissatisfaction with the new communist government. It lead to the creation of the
USSR, and granted larger control to the Communists.