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Russian Civil War: 1919

Fighting for survival, the Bolsheviks were resorting to what some people called an iron dictatorship. In the last half of 1918, the economy was put under military discipline. trade became a monopoly and the death penalty was re-established in the army. Earlier Trotsky and some other revolutionaries had favored its abolition, seeing it as something from tsarist times, but Lenin favored it.

As the civil war continued into 1919 the Bolsheviks had a geographical advantage: the central position, including Petrograd and Moscow, much of Russia's manufacturing, Russia's defense industries and rail distribution network. Trotsky was able to move troops and supplies rapidly to areas under attack. The anti-Bolshevik armies, on the other hand, were scattered, uncoordinated and dependent on what little outside powers gave them in money, supplies and instructors. Their announced purpose of warring against the Bolsheviks was to reconvene the Constituent Assembly and to enforce the laws of the Provisional Government. But they were not in the habit of appealing to hearts and minds. They put the power of their violence ahead of everything else. Peasants with confiscated lands feared that those who crushed the Bolsheviks would take these lands from them. Many whom the Bolsheviks drafted into their armies had little love for the Bolsheviks, and desertions from the Bolshevik armies were high, but the Red Army had enough men who believed that they were fighting to change the world and who wanted to defend the revolution against counter-revolution.

A major threat to the Leninist regime in the summer of 1919 came from the area of Omsk (southwestern Siberia). There, an army led by Alexander Kolchak, a former admiral in the Tsar's navy, was recognized as the Supreme Ruler and Commander-in-Chief of the anti-Bolshevik movement. Under the command of one of Kolchak's officers, Colonel Sephanov, hundreds of peasants and townspeople were murdered. And Kolchak's army executed people they found unenthusiastic for their cause. Kolchak's forces could not stand up against the full weight of the Red Army, and they fell back, became a rabble of individuals — officers, wives and mistresses, hordes of soldiers and civilians — rushing eastward in Siberia. Kolchak had been close to the British and had returned to Russia with foreboding at their request. He had been dependent on the British for supplies, and in 1920 faced a Bolshevik firing squad, according to eyewitnesses, with calm, "like an Englishman."

Also in the summer of 1919, an army from the Don region led by a former Tsarist commander, Anton Denikin, who had replaced Kornilov, pushed toward Moscow. In October he was defeated 400 kilometers short of there. Denikin had been for restoring law and civil liberties in the areas under his control. He escaped to France, and in 1940 when the Germans invaded he would refuse to cooperate with them.

In early October, an army from Estonia with British tanks led by another former Tsarist army commander, Nikolai Yudenich, started for Petrograd. A week later, on the outskirts of that city, Red Army reinforcements arrived forces and threw Yudenich back. He had been opposed to offering Estonia independence, but the Bolsheviks did, and Yudendich fled to France.

Bolshevik forces were challenged in the Muslim regions in Central Asia — where Russians had settled. Some Muslims fought on the side of the Bolsheviks and against their old imperialist Tsarist enemy, and some joined the anti-communists. In May 1919, the Red Army issued a directive to sign 35,000 Central Asians into the Red Army. Some allowed themselves to be drafted into the Red Army but soon fled with their weapons to the Muslim guerrilla resistance movement — the so-called Basmachi. By the summer of 1920, the Basmachi gained popular backing in traditional bastions of conservative Islam. The Basmachi spread as far west as the Caspian Sea, while settled peoples failed to join their cause. In 1920 in what is today Uzbekistan, the Khorezm People's Soviet Republic and the Bukharan People's Republic were declared.

CONTINUE READING: H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, and Emma Goldman in Russia (1920)

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