MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Events
Russian Civil War (1918-1922)
Throughout the war over half a million soldiers from the Entente armies would head off from the blood-stained battlefields of Europe, onto the soil of their former allies. A new type of government had been created in Russia, one proposing a government of bottom-up, working class democratic organizations of Soviets. This new Soviet government refused to go to war, and ended it's participation in World War I with the peace treaty of Brest Litovsk, something that upset the Western nations tremendously. Further, the Soviets, in their first act of government, gave all land to the peasantry and workers – an act which cried of condemnation for the bourgeois and their hallowed rights of private property over the means of production.
As a result, the Entente decided to invade the newly borne Russia. The Soviet government relentlessly tried to come to peace with all invading armies, both the imperialists and the white armies. In less than 4 months, from November 1918 to February 1919, the Soviet government sent seven proposals for peace on all fronts to all Entente nations and military commanders. On January 5 the British government responded and suggested that representatives of all sides be sent to a Paris peace conference; this happening at the extreme agitation of Winston Churchill, who exclaimed that the Soviet government had to be crushed as swiftly as possible. The French government also strongly disagreed, and refused to allow the Soviet government on French soil. The combined pressure of U.S. President Wilson and Lloyd George on early February, 1919 persuaded the French to agree and setup for armistice talks on the island of Prinkipo in the Sea of Marmara (a sea in northwestern Turkey, between the Aegean Sea and Black Sea).
The Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, Chicherin, responded to the Western agreement for peace by explaining that the Soviet government was willing, if necessary, to recognize all foreign debts, further the soviets would give raw materials to the workers of Western nations, and the Soviets explained they were even willing to discuss annexations. Peace at any cost, because the Soviets knew that so long as they could build their revolution in peace, workers of other nations would join them in Socialist building – any other way would make this attempt towards Socialism impossible. The White Armies refused to meet for peace. The Soviet government did not sway from this however, and sent out several more appeals for peace, but all subsequent appeals received no response.
The Western nations divided Russia into theaters which each nation targeted for attack. Japan and the United States led the Far Eastern assault, claiming Siberia as their territory of war. Bessarabia, and all of the Ukraine were the French territory of war, while Britain would suppress and capture the Soviet republics in the Transcaucas (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) and work its way up the southern peninsula of Russia. In the north, the British fleet, with assistance from the French and American fleets, would take control of the Karellian peninsula and the region of Arkhangel'sk; thusly surrounding the Soviet government on all sides.
"You know, hampered as we are by lack of everything, we could not put up the fight we are putting up against the reactionaries if it were not for the real revolutionary spirit of the people as a whole. The reactionaries have money, munitions, supplies of all kinds, instructors, from outside. We have nothing, and yet we beat them. Do you know that the English have given them tanks? Have you heard that in one place they used gases or something of the kind, and blinded eight hundred men? And yet we win. Why? Because from every town we capture we get new strength. And any town they take is a source of weakness to them, one more town to garrison and hold against the wishes of the population."
Pavlovitch, Civil Engineer
President of the Committee of State Constructions
Chapter 11, Russia in 1919
The Eastern Front: In July, 1918, Japan landed over 72,000 troops in Vladivostok, and spread them throughout Eastern Siberia, claiming the territory as part of Japan. The United States Army landed soldiers to secure the Trans-Siberian railway. Slightly to the west of Vladivostok, in the area Ulan Ude, the Japanese military enlisted the brutal Ataman Semenov to rule as dictator. In Central and Western Siberia a directory was established by the White Army . The unity within the directory was extremely sporadic, made up of former czarist officers, bourgeois liberal cadets, and right-wing Socialist revolutionaries ; in other words, the political spectrum from the extreme right to slightly left of the center. By November 18, 1918, the czarist officers would no longer tolerate the "liberals" and overthrew the directory, appointing Admiral Kolchak supreme ruler and commander-in-chief.
In Europe World War I came to an end, while former tsarist Admiral Kolchak established an autocratic military dictatorship in Omsk. Landlords, accompanied by soldiers, took from the peasants as much land as they had had before the peasants had "seized it". In factories, factory owner's returned with soldiers to forcibly remove workers' ownership of the factories. Untold numbers of workers and peasants were shot, beaten, and imprisoned. All political factions who opposed Kolchak's dictatorship were imprisoned, including the right-wing of the Socialist revolutionary party, who at one time had been a part of the directory.
The peasantry and workers of Omsk revolted on Dec. 21, 1918, outraged by the brutality of Kolchak and his overthrow of the directory. A number of imprisoned right-wing Socialist revolutionaries were successfully liberated by the revolting population. To suppress the revolt, Kolchak ordered soldiers to open fire, killing over 300 unarmed civilians. The people were successfully dispersed. In the weeks following 166 civilians were shot dead for having ties to "instigating" the revolt. The Socialist revolutionaries who had been freed from imprisonment, gave themselves up for fear of reprisals. They were promptly taken to the banks of the Irtysh River, and shot.
Kolchak's military campaign was no less brutal. In late December 1918 a section of the Siberian Army, led by General Gajda under the command of Kolchak, marched westward over the Ural mountains and captured the city of Perm. The Red Army responded by a heroic crossing of the Volga River, liberating the towns of Ufa and Orenburg (directly south of Perm).
Kolchak then unleashed a full offensive into southern Russia from Perm. His 40,000 strong Western Army pushed back the Soviet 5th Army which held the city of Ufa, with less than 10,000 men and women in its defense. After months of courageous fighting, the Soviet 5th Army was forced to fall back, and on March 13 Kolchak's Army occupied Ufa. In the following weeks Kolchak continued to drive his armies farther into the heart of Russia, separating them to capture the two major ports on the Volga River: Kazan, 450 kilometers northwest of Ufa, and Samara (later renamed Kuybyshev), 400 kilometers southwest of Ufa. In the North, the remnants of Kolchak's Northern Siberian Army left Perm and marched west, towards the large industrial city of Vyatka (later renamed Kirov), some 400 kilometers to the west. If successful, Kolchak would establish a strong Eastern front, and would only have to rely on his British collaborators in the North, the French in the South West, and Denikin in the South to ensure the strangulation of the Soviet government from the peoples of Russia.
Kolchak's advances, however, were halted not only by the Red Army, but also by the Russian peasantry who would not tolerate Kolchak's brutality. As most of his forces were now West of the Urals, his dictatorship in Siberia began to crumble. While his officers in Siberia continued their brutal suppression of the peasantry, the soldiers under their command refused to carry out orders. The supply lines to Kolchak soldiers in the West began to falter, and their morale began its steady decline, with soldiers defecting to the Red Army everyday.
By the end of April, the Red Army began its counter-offensive. Led by Mikhail Frunze, Kolchak's Western Army slowly began to fall back. By June 9, the city of Ufa was liberated again, and Kolchak's armies were forced to flee east of the Ural mountains. The Red Army was relentless. Kolchak's forces had bordered themselves up in the city of Chelyabinsk, but they could not withstand the force of the Red Army. By November 14, 1919, almost a year to the day that Kolchak had established a military dictatorship in Omsk, the Red Army, with the help of the revolting peasantry and the soldiers under Kolchak's command, liberated the city of Omsk.
In January, 1920, Kolchak proclaimed Denikin his successor as leader of the white armies. Kolchak retreated east, attempting to flee Russia through Vladivostok, but was killed by the Red Army.
The overwhelming mass of the people and of the revolutionary leaders want peace, and only continued warfare forced upon them could turn their desire for peace into desperate, resentful aggression.
Russia in 1919
Further Reading: For an account of the social and political conditions in Russia during the Civil War see: Russia in 1919.
Russian Revolution (February - October 1917)
See Russian Revolution History Archive including a timeline of the year 1917, eye-witness accounts and contemporary analyses, and a glossary of political leaders and organisations.
Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Congresses of)
Russian Students in Tsarist Russia
The Russo-Japanese War over rival claims to Manchuria and Korea began with an attack on Port Arthur by the Japanese on February 8, 1904. The Russians lost on land, and in May 1905, at the Battle of Tsushima lost all of its navy. Peace was signed at Portsmouth USA in September 1905. The Russian defeat contributed to the Revolution of 1905.