VI. The World Wars and the Interwar Period, 1914–1945 > C. Europe, 1919–1945 > 16. Russia (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) > 1918–20
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
GREAT CIVIL WAR. The Bolshevik government was at first faced with the prospect of war without anything like an adequate, trained force. During the first period of the war it suffered one reverse after another, but gradually a new Red Army of volunteers was organized. Under the leadership of Trotsky (who had become commissar for war) it developed into a regular army based on conscription and subject to strict discipline. The Bolsheviks had the advantage of fighting on the inside lines and derived a certain measure of support from the fact that they were defending Russian territory. At the same time the lack of cohesion among the counterrevolutionary movements and the fitful attitude of the Allied powers constantly hampered the operations of the Whites.  1
(1) The war with the Cossacks. Operations began with the new year. Kaledin committed suicide after a defeat (Feb. 13), and Kornilov was killed in battle (April 13). The command in the south was taken over by Gen. Anton Denikin, supported by Gen. Peter Krasnov (hetman of the Don Cossacks, May 11).  2
(2) The struggle for Ukraine. Ukraine had declared its independence of Russia (Jan. 28, 1918), and the Moderate Socialist government at Kiev had concluded a separate peace with the Germans and Austrians (Feb. 9). Thereupon the Bolsheviks attacked and took Kiev (Feb. 18), but they were soon ejected by the Germans (March 2), who then also took Odessa (March 13) and overran the whole of Ukraine, from which they tried, rather unsuccessfully, to secure much-needed food supplies. With German aid, a more conservative government, under Gen. Paul Skoropadsky, was set up, but after the end of the world war, Skoropadsky was overthrown (Nov. 15) by the Ukrainian Socialists, under Gen. Simon Petliura. The French occupied Odessa (Dec. 18), but the Bolsheviks, having assumed the offensive, took Kiev (Feb. 3, 1919) and expelled the Allied forces from Odessa (April 8). Ukraine became a Soviet Republic, which was conquered by the White armies of Gen. Denikin (Aug.–Dec. 1919) only to be retaken by the Bolsheviks (Dec. 17) and then invaded by the Poles (May 7, 1920). The Bolsheviks managed to drive the Poles back and on Dec. 28 concluded a treaty with the Ukrainian Soviet government, recognizing the latter's independence. On Dec. 30 Ukraine joined with the other Soviet Republics to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  3
(3) The war in Belarus (White Russia) and the Baltic region. Most of this area continued to be occupied or dominated by the Germans down to and beyond the conclusion of the world war armistice. In the autumn of 1919 a White army under Gen. Nicholas Yudenitch advanced on Petrograd (Oct. 19) but was forced back by the Bolsheviks. The Soviet government recognized the independence of Estonia (Feb. 2, 1920), of Lithuania (July 12), of Latvia (Aug. 11), and of Finland (Oct. 14). Belarus continued to be a Soviet Republic until its union with the other Soviet Republics in 1922.  4
(4) Allied intervention in northern Russia. The British landed a force at Murmansk on June 23, 1918, primarily with the object of holding German forces in the east and protecting Allied stores from falling into hostile hands. On Aug. 2 the British and French took Arkhangelsk and began to support a puppet government of northern Russia. The Americans also sent a force, and during the spring of 1919 there was considerable fighting between the Allies and the Bolsheviks. The French were the most ardent advocates of more extensive intervention against the Bolsheviks, but neither the British nor the Americans were willing, after the armistice, to go beyond financial and other support for the anti-Bolshevik movements. On Sept. 30, 1919, the Allies abandoned Arkhangelsk and then (Oct. 12) Murmansk. These territories were quickly taken over by the Bolsheviks.  5
(5) Campaigns of Denikin and Wrangel in the Caucasus and southern Russia. The Caucasian states (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) declared their independence on April 22 and May 26, 1918. After the withdrawal of the Germans and Austrians from southern Russia, the Bolsheviks made an effort to reconquer this territory, so valuable for its oil, but Denikin defeated them (Jan. 1919). After a rather spectacular advance northward, Denikin was himself driven back to the Black Sea coast (April), where he maintained himself until the autumn. In another swift offensive he then captured Odessa (Aug. 18) and took Kiev (Sept. 2), only to be forced to retreat again (Dec.). By March 27, 1920, his last base fell to the Bolsheviks, and he turned over the command to Gen. Peter Wrangel. The Bolsheviks meanwhile advanced into the Caucasus and took Baku (April 28), but Wrangel, starting from the region north of the Sea of Azov, began to overrun much of southern Russia (June–Nov.). Finally, however, the Bolshevik forces, freed by the conclusion of the war with Poland, were able to concentrate against Wrangel, who was forced back to the Crimea (Nov. 1) and then obliged to evacuate his army to Constantinople (Nov. 14). Early in 1921 Soviet governments were set up in Georgia (Feb. 25) and in Armenia (April 2). By the treaty with Turkey (Oct. 13) Batum was restored to Russia. On March 12, 1922, the Soviet governments of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were combined to form the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic, which on Dec. 30 became part of the larger Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  6
(6) The war in Siberia and eastern Russia. Japanese forces were landed at Vladivostok on Dec. 30, 1917, at a time when the Czech legions (organized before the revolution out of large numbers of Austrian war prisoners) had already started their march toward Vladivostok with the purpose of ultimately joining the Allied forces in Europe. Disagreement between them and the Soviet government led to armed conflict (June 1918), in the course of which the Czechs seized control of the Trans-Siberian Railway and formed an alliance with local anti-Bolshevik forces. An autonomous Siberian government had already been formed at Omsk. This government later merged with the directory organized in Ufa by former members of the constituent assembly (mostly Moderate Socialists). Meanwhile the Czechs extended their operations to the Volga region, taking Ekaterinburg (July 26) and other places. At Omsk the military and conservative elements executed a coup (Nov. 18) by which the Socialists were forced out of the government, and Adm. Alexander Kolchak was proclaimed Supreme Ruler of Russia. His Siberian White army then staged an advance into eastern Russia, capturing Perm (Dec. 24) and Ufa. But the Bolsheviks initiated a vigorous counteroffensive, taking Orenburg and Ekaterinburg (Jan. 25, 27, 1919) and gradually forcing Kolchak back into Siberia. They recaptured Omsk (Nov. 14) and drove the White army back on Irkutsk. Kolchak gave way to Gen. Nicholas Semenov (Dec. 17) and was subsequently captured and executed by the Bolsheviks (Feb. 7). The Bolsheviks attempted to take Vladivostok by a coup (Jan. 30) but were obliged to yield to the greater power of the Japanese. In order to avoid conflict, the Soviet government of Russia set up a buffer state in eastern Siberia (April 6). This was known as the Far Eastern Republic, with its capital at Chita. When the Japanese finally evacuated Vladivostok (Oct. 25, 1922), the city was occupied by troops of the Far Eastern Republic, which was itself annexed to Soviet Russia on Nov. 19, 1922.  7
Other important developments of this confused and crucial period were as follows.  8
1918, July 10
PROMULGATION OF THE SOVIET CONSTITUTION, which was adopted by the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets. The main lines of the soviet system were these: (1) local soviets elected representatives to the provincial congresses of soviets, which in turn sent delegates to the All-Russian (subsequently All-Union) Congress of Soviets; (2) the latter elected the Executive Committee, a permanent body that acted in the intervals between sessions of the congress; the congress also elected the Council of People's Commissars; (3) elections were held on an occupational and not on a territorial basis: the factory workers were more generously represented than the peasants, while the “nontoiling” bourgeois classes (including the clergy) were disfranchised; (4) all elections were open, with no provision for secret ballot. In practice this system of “soviet democracy” was dominated by a dictatorship of (or for) the proletariat, and this in turn was exercised by the Bolshevik Party (renamed the Communist Party in March 1918). No other parties were permitted, and the press and other channels of expression were put under sweeping government control. The Communist Party was governed by the Central Committee, within which there was a smaller group called the Political Bureau (Politburo). This latter was the real governing body of the country. Lenin's authority remained supreme in both party and government until his death.  9
July 16
Murder of Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, and their children in a cellar at Ekaterinburg, where they had been kept in captivity. On the outbreak of the revolution the imperial family had been confined first in the palace of Tsarskoe Selo. Thence it had been moved to Tobolsk and finally (April 1918) to Ekaterinburg. The murder was ordered by Bolsheviks who feared the imminent capture of the city by the advancing Czechs and Whites.  10
Aug. 30
An attempt was made by a Social Revolutionary to assassinate Lenin. Coming at the time of severe crisis, this move inaugurated a systematic reign of terror by the Bolsheviks, in the course of which huge numbers of intellectuals and bourgeois of all types were wiped out.  11
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.