What is a Civil War? A Civil War is fought between two sides or factions in the same country. For example, the American Civil was fought between Americans in the northern and southern states. In Russia the war was fought between two armies – the White and the Red.
Why did Bolshevik rule lead to a civil war? The EPIC changes brought in by the Bolsheviks made them many enemies. WHO WOULD HAVE OPPOSED THE CHANGES? Supporters of the Tsar (including some soldiers) Socialist Revolutionaries who had won the election but then seen the Constituent Assembly closed down. Mensheviks who opposed the Bolshevik methods. Landlords and capitalists who had lost their land and investments. The Church which had lost land and any authority they had under the Tsar. White Army poster depicting Trotsky as a Jewish Devil
No Ballot = Bullets When the Bolsheviks used the Red Guard (Bolshevik Armed Force) to shut down the Constituent Assembly they left opponents with no peaceful way to protest. Violence became the only method left to resist the Bolsheviks…
In August 1918 a Socialist Revolutionary agent shot Lenin three times.
He survived and in December established the CHEKA (the Bolshevik secret police) to crush his opponents).
Armed and dangerous By the end of 1918 anti-Bolshevik elements had united in an attempt to crush the Bolsheviks. They were known as the ‘Whites’ (in contrast to the Bolshevik Reds). Opponents from inside Russia were joined by enemies of the Bolsheviks from outside Russia. Foreign troops from Britain, USA, France and Japan. They hoped to overthrow the Bolsheviks and force Russia back into the war against Germany.
Bolsheviks surrounded The Bolsheviks controlled the cities of Moscow and Petrograd. They also controlled the area around these cities. Most of Russia was controlled by the Social Revolutionaries and their followers. These areas included Generals Yudenich, Wrangel, and Admiral Kolchak who were opposed to the Bolsheviks.
Czechs please! During the war ethnic Czechs from inside Russia had formed a legion to fight against Germany. They hoped to win the respect of Britain and the United States. Their goal was to have land taken from Austria-Hungary after the war and used to create an independent land for the Czech people. Trotsky had the Czech legion sent to Siberia and disarmed. They escaped and killed any Bolsheviks between them and the Pacific Coast….
Whites on the move General Yudenich and Wrangel marched towards Bolshevik-controlled western Russia from the west. Admiral Kolchak approached from central-southern Russia. General Kornilov lead an army from southern Russia. They were joined by forces from Britain, France and America. The White Armies would eventually number 2,400,000. The western allies contributed 150,000 troops. The White army completely surrounded the Bolsheviks.
Trotsky’s Response Trotsky rapidly created a new Red Army of over 300,000 men. He used former Tsarist Officers as leaders. He gained their ‘loyalty’ by holding their families hostage and threatening to kill the families of unsuccessful officers. If a regiment retreated against orders they were machine-gunned. During the war he travelled from one front to another in an armoured train to inspire and lead the troops.
The Red Terror The Bolsheviks ruthlessly dealt with anybody in their territory who supported the Whites. The Cheka used beatings, torture, hangings and shootings to ‘control’ opposition. Around 250,000 people were executed by the Chekaduring the war. The executions included the Tsar and his family in July 1918. The Bolsheviks were worried that an advancing White army would liberate them from their house arrest in Ekaterinburg. If Nicholas was free it would inspire some of the White Army to try to return him to the throne. A mass grave of Cheka victims
Bolsheviks fight back Trotsky’s Red Army destroyed Admiral Kolchak's forces at the end of 1919. The White Armies did not work together well and Trotsky was able to destroy them one by one. He used the central position of the Bolsheviks to their advantage – moving from front to front as required. The last major White Army was defeated in the Crimea in November 1920. By 1921 the Bolsheviks controlled Russia.
The impact of the war Destroyed military opposition to the Bolsheviks. Peasants in occupied territories were brutalised by both sides. 800,000 soldiers died in combat. Over 8 million people died of starvation and disease (both the White and Red armies had confiscated food supplies from peasants….).
Brilliant Bolsheviks? Committed to the same cause - Bolshevik revolution. Brilliantly led by Trotsky. Kept the towns and armies fed (by confiscating food from peasants). Kept the army supplied by taking over factories of Moscow and Petrograd. Red Terror kept civilians in line. Used propaganda to spread fear of foreign influence and White Army brutality.
Weak Whites? …but at least we sleep on our own land now. The Red Terror may haunt our dreams…. Different groups, different aims (Social Revolutionaries forced to fight along supporters of the Tsar!). Spread widely so Trotsky could defeat them one by one. Peasants hated both sides but knew the Whites would bring back landlords!