History of the Russian Civil War

The Russian Civil War was a very important internal conflict that took place between the Bolsheviks and their political opponents between 1918 and 1922. It began with the collapse of the Russian provisional government and ended with the Treaty of Riga. This internal conflict tore the country apart for four long and painful years as the people battled to determine who should have authority over Russia. However, the majority of the bloodshed occurred in the first two years of war.

The Russian Civil War effectively took place between two main factions. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, were known as the Reds, while the monarchists, militarists and all other groups opposed to Bolshevik rule were known as the Whites. Two other forces, the Ukrainian Green Army and the anarchist Black Army, also played a minor role in the war. The war started shortly after the October phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Red Guard - which was formed by groups of armed soldiers and workers directed by the Bolshevik Party – seized control of Petrograd (Saint Petersburg). This move was followed by a strategic takeover of cities and villages across the country. Within one year, Lenin had the Constituent Assembly dissolved by violent methods and soon he proclaimed the Soviets to be the new government of Russia. However, part of the reason for the widespread support of the Reds was a promise of peace with the German Empire and the Central Powers, and so the Bolsheviks immediately sought a way to make peace with Germany. A cease fire was announced and peace talks began.

However, things did not go as well as planned and the Central Powers demanded that large portions of the Russian Empire be ceded to Imperial Germany and the Ottoman Empire. This upset a number of nationalists and conservatives and at first the Bolsheviks refused to sign the treaty. Refusal to cooperate resulted in an all-out German advance on the Eastern Front. The Bolsheviks were forced to sign the treaty since their armies were currently not in a condition to stop the advance. Thus, on March 6, 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was ratified. The treaty not only added to the numbers of those who were opposed to Bolshevik rule, but was also viewed largely as a sign of weakness. The signing of this treaty was ultimately what lead to the Bolshevik Party’s downfall. Soon the Bolsheviks started banning all non-Bolshevik political activity. What had been a potentially great power crumbled as supporters changed sides and anti-Bolshevik groups grew in power. ‘White’ powers gained support from other countries and this bolstered them significantly. Eventually the majority of the fighting ended in 1920 when General Pyotr Wrangel was defeated in the Crimea. However, a few small, but notable, resistances continued in different parts of the country until as late as 1922.


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