The victorious October Revolution saw the gathering of the counter-revolutionary forces who unleashed a Civil War assisted by armed intervention by fourteen imperialist and capitalist countries. For three years – 1918 to 1921 – a Civil War raged in Russia. The class conscious workers of Petrograd and other cities became the core of the new Red Army which battled the White Guards. It is only after defeating the White Guards and the imperialist armed intervention that the new Socialist State was consolidated. The Civil War saw the sacrifices of tens of thousands of class conscious workers and Bolsheviks who shed their blood to defend the socialist revolution.
Defeat of White Guards and Interventionists
BY the summer of 1918 three-quarters of Russia had been occupied by the interventionist and White-Guard forces as the enemies of Soviet power were called. Central Russia and the main proletarian centres were in every sense of the word a besieged island fortress cut off from the basic resources of food, raw materials and fuel.
The enemy was sure that the workers’ power would collapse, that the working class, the mainstay of the revolution, would be driven to despair by hunger and thus give way. In fact, hunger cold and chaos drove the workers into the country, so as to get nearer to the land, to bread. During the Civil War the number of factory workers dropped to almost half the previous figure.
Though few in number the workers were still the country’s best-organised force. They were steeled in the class struggle and the experience of three revolutions. The strength of the working class – the communist vanguard of the Bolshevik Party – was distributed between the labour front and the Civil War fronts.
In the summer of 1918, danger mostly threatened from the East where the main forces of the anti-Soviet coalition were concentrated. The enemy had already captured the Ural towns of Cheliabinsk, Perm, and the Volga cities of Kazan, Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) and Samara (now Kuibyshev). From the Volga the way stood open to Moscow.
To strengthen the Eastern Front the Soviet command formed a dozen new divisions that were organised into five armies, made up of the best representatives of the workers and peasants. The Red army launched an offensive and stormed Kazan from three sides. Unable to withstand the pressure, the White Guards hastily evacuated the city.
The First World War ended in late 1918 with the defeat of Germany and its allies. This gave the British, French and American imperialists a free hand to concentrate their forces against the young Soviet Republic.
The main force in this crusade was the army commanded by the tsarist Admiral Kolchak, who, being in control of the Far East and Siberia, proclaimed himself Supreme Ruler of Russia. He declared that his mission was to deliver the country from Bolshevik power. He mustered an army of 400,000 men, whom he armed with Japanese, British and American weapons.
He was reliably backed up by a combined interventionist force of 150,000 Japanese, British and American soldiers.
In March 1919, despite the losses inflicted by the Red Army, Kolchak crossed the Ural mountains and pushed forward to the banks of the Volga.
Again the Soviet Republic was in deadly peril. The Bolsheviks addressed an appeal to the people – “All out to fight Kolchak!” and announced the mobilisation of the Party members. Rallying to the banner of the Red Army were more than 100,000 Communists, members of the recently-organised Leninist Young Communist League (Komsomol) and trade union activists.
The Red Army prepared to attack and launched its counter-offensive in the second half of April. Though Kolchak threw his last strategic reserves into the fray, nothing now could hold back the victoriously advancing Red Army, which after taking Ufa pushed further east across the Ural mountains and began to free Western Siberia.
Meanwhile an immense force of more than 150,000 partisans operated in Kolchak’s rear, harassing his White-Guard Army and the interventionist forces. Under this two-fold pressure Kolchak retreated eastward, until he was completely crushed in decisive engagement between the Tobol and Irtysh Rivers.
When in the late summer of 1918 the imperialists realised that Kolchak had been defeated, they decided to back General Denikin, then active in South-European Russia, and provided him with large quantities of armaments, including tanks and aircraft.
In early July, Denikin launched an offensive aimed at capturing Moscow.
The newly-formed, poorly-equipped and poorly-trained Red Armymen were forced back and compelled to evacuate the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, and also Kursk and Oryol, two big cities on the southern approaches to Moscow. Denikin was already near Bryansk and Tula, which were within a few days’ march to Moscow.
On October 11, General Yudenich marched on Petrograd with an army armed to the teeth by the British and the American.
The young Soviet Republic was going through a critical period. In autumn 1919, another 30,000 Communist and 20,000 Komsomols were sent to fight. Everywhere workers formed volunteer detachments.
In the second half of October the Red Army switched to the offensive. In the bitter fighting to free Oryol and Voronezh it inflicted a shattering defeat upon the White Guards. A decisive role was played by Semyon Budyonny’s First Cavalry Force. In late 1919, the Red Army liberated the industrial regions of the Northern Ukraine and the Donets basin (Donbass). The enemy retreated towards the Black Sea.
Meanwhile Yudenich was defeated at Petrograd thanks to the combined efforts of the city’s heroic workers and Red Army forces brought in from Central Russia. By mid-November Yudenich’s Army had melted away.
A period of respite began. But not for long. In the spring of 1920 the imperialists launched their third campaign against Soviet Russia. The main counter-revolutionary forces this time were the armed forces of the Polish gentry and baron Wrangel’s White-Guard regiments, the remnants of Denikin’s army, that had entrenched themselves in the Southern Ukraine.
Again, the entire people rallied to defend the revolution. The first to feel the power of the worker-and-peasant Red Army were the Poles. In the summer of 1920, Marshal Pilsudski’s main forces were crushed and driven from the Soviet Republic. Nor did Wrangel last for long either. In late October the troops of the Southern Front, commanded by Mikhail Frunze, launched an offensive and put Wrangel to rout within a few days.
The storming of the Perekop began on the night of November 7. It was taken after extremely heavy fighting. Though thousands of soldiers were killed, the Red Army seized the supposedly impregnable fortifications and forced the panic-stricken White Guards to evacuate by sea. The Crimea was now free.
The ferocity of the Russian counter-revolutionaries, who had mobilised all their reserves by force and deception to preserve their power, the three interventionist campaigns involving fourteen capitalist countries, were not able to defeat the indomitable will, strength and unity of the Soviet people led by the Communist Party.