Century Redrawn

No one has been able to calculate accurately the cost in human life attributable to the civil war. Reasoned estimates have placed the number of dead from battle and disease in the Red Army as low as 425,000 and as high as 1,213,000. Numbers for their opponents range from 325,000 to 1,287,000. Another 200,000-400,000 died in prison or were executed as a result of the 'Red Terror' against 'enemies of the people', A further 50,000 may have been victims of the corresponding 'White Terror'. Another 5 million are believed to have died in the ensuing famines of 1921-22, directly caused by the economic disruption of revolution and civil war. The number of civilians succumbing to the epidemics of typhus, typhoid and cholera in 1918-21 and to the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-19 can only be imagined. The final butcher's bill totalled 7-14 million.

This death list doubles if one considers the forces unleashed by the Red victory at the end of the civil war: the forcible collectivization of agriculture, the travails of the Five Year Plans with their attendant labour camps, and the political and military purges under Stalin in the 1930s, Moreover, much of the former empire's human talent -intellectuals, doctors, actors, artists, musicians, administrators and scientists -emigrated to join the Russian diaspora during and after the civil war period. This number alone has been estimated from 2-3.5 million.

The prospects for a Bolshevik victory in the civil war hung in the balance in 1918-19, but were much more certain in 1920-21. Above all, the Reds held the centre

Russian girl, victim of the devastating famine that resulted from civil war (Belgian Red Cross photocard. c. 1921, Bullock collection)

ground, central Russia, the heartland, with all the advantages that that position conferred. Here lay the old tsarist stocks of war, the primary arms factories, the thickest net of railways and the largest population. The Bolsheviks could readily reinforce their fronts from a central manpower base, or shift forces from one front to another according to need.

This population base became increasingly important as the civil war dragged on. From May 1918 to December 1920, the Red Army grew from an approximate fighting strength of 300,000 to 800,000. A further 900,000 formed the second line of reserves. During these two-and-a-half years, nearly 5.5 million personnel had been registered for mobilization. These either passed through the ranks of the Red Army, worked in labour armies, maintained internal security or deserted. According to some assessments,

1920 Old West Army ClothInfantry Regiment Drozdovsky
The Whites continued to dream about returning to a Russia free of Bolshevism. In this Illustration, soldiers of the Armed Forces of South Russia, including members of the Markov, Kornilov and Drozdovsky Divisions, finally reach the Kremlin in Moscow. (Chasevoi. 1932)

approximately half of the Red forces deserted during these years.

Nevertheless, larger reserves meant that the Reds could establish training centres in the rear and keep their students under technical instruction and political indoctrination longer than could the Whites. Second- or third-rate troops might be a liability on the main battle front, but they could still guard bridges and railways against partisans or rebellious peasants, organize chairs for military classrooms or requisition food from the local populace.

Nevertheless, the Whites were never able to conscript and field comparable numbers. Den i kin's AFSR reached its peak on the Southern Front in autumn 1919 with 98,000 combatants, including the Cossacks, and 46,000 in reserve (the British Military Mission calculated this latter number at 136,000). Opposed to the AFSR were a total of 677,000 Reds in the Southern and

Southeastern Army Groups, of which 148,000 were front-line fighters.

This numerical inequality occurred on other fronts as well. Yudenich's Northwestern Army reached its peak in autumn 1919 with 20,000 combatants. Against this threat, the Reds were abie to poise 73,000 soldiers. Kolchak fielded perhaps 137,000 front-line troops in March 1919. Overall, White forces in the east, at least on paper and including a high proportion of non-combatants, rose from 160,000 in November 1918 to 450,000 in June 1919. A large number of these Volga and Siberian conscripts never received arms or saw military service. Many of those that did deserted in the summer and autumn of 1919, Opposed to Kolchak, the Red Eastern Army Group had 361,000 combatant and support troops, with 195,000 in the Volga region in reserve.

An exhaustive, statistical study about what these numbers actually meant and how they translated onto the battlefield has yet to be written. However, it is clear enough that the Bolsheviks had a significantly larger pool from which to draw. Barring an internal revolt or collapse, time was on the side of the Reds.

These human resources varied greatly in value. Russia remained overwhelmingly agrarian in 1918, and conscription, to which all sides resorted, meant drafting peasants. No political faction found the peasantry enthusiastic about military service. Few peasants had the literacy or political prescience to care about which side won, merely that they retained the land already gained in the revolutionary seizures of 1917-18. Forced to choose; most considered the Whites, with their complicated land reform policies, the greater threat. Red promises were 'now'. Few could foresee the loss of their land to the new landlord, the Soviet state itself.

On the other side were those who understood the stakes, and were willing to make sacrifices for them. These were the minority, the elite, those who were willing to kill and be killed. While numbers could and did make the difference, as in the campaign for the Crimea in 1920, all too often it was the élan of the shock troops of a particular faction, reinforced with automatic rifles and machine guns and led by charismatic commanders, that dominated the Field of Mars. The Whites arguably attracted the best of the old army and created additional elite units over time. Except for the Latvians, who had entered the conflict with discipline and experience, other Red formations, such as Chapaev's 25th Regiment, Blyukher's 51st and several units of the Konarmiya, had to earn 'elite' status under fire. The civil war was won on the battlefield by the side that could recruit, iogistically sustain, and replace a larger number of committed forces.

Unlike the disparate White armies, the Reds had a central command, and if there were discordant voices, these were brought under control and a common strategy prevailed, even If this strategy later proved in error. The Bolshevik Party, headed by a leader generally accepted by all, Lenin, provided steady if imperfect direction. Trotsky, architect of the Red Army, embraced Lenin's leadership. Propaganda departments maintained consistent and easy-to-understand themes. The internal security services, the Cheka, led by Dzerzhinsky, remained loyal and were utterly ruthless in suppressing dissidents, whether real or imagined.

Perhaps studied least by historians were the tens of thousands of lower- and middle-grade officers, officials, party members and agitators who risked or sacrificed their lives for the hope of a new tomorrow. Legends, heroes and heroines aside, these were the more mundane yet critical cadres who fought and fell without an Order of the Red Banner fixed to their chests, who took a final breath on some forgotten corner of a battlefield, or carried out conscientious work behind a neglected desk in a scarcely remembered sector, but who nevertheless believed. This was the cement that built the Revolution.

The Whites had certain advantages of their own. In a conflict where mobility could be a critical factor, they had superior cavalry, both in quality and quantity, on their Southern and even Eastern Fronts. T his condition lasted through autumn 1919 until both White fronts were forced into their arduous and ultimately disastrous retreats. This tide had turned by the New Year, 1920. In the 1980s, Guards Cavalry veteran Nicholas Volkov-Mouromtsoff held extensive interviews with the author during which he described the massed cavalry battle of Egorlykskaia against Budenny's Konarmiya in February 1920. In his own words, These Red cavalry had been completely equal to us In quality.'

Blessed with an abundance of officers who were technically competent, the Whites could usually outmanoeuvre their opponents, face down superior numbers, exact greater discipline and steadiness from their units and manage their artillery, aircraft, armoured trains, tanks and armoured cars to better effect. T hese tactical advantages remained throughout 1919 in the case of the Northwestern Army and throughout 1920 on the Southern Front.

Overall, however, the Whites failed to establish a comprehensive social and political programme that could be understood by the masses. Themes of personal sacrifice, exhortations to sign up for military service for Mother Russia and fight for the geographical unity of their country only inspired a few -too few. Many of those who might have been expected to respond to these pleas and support the Whites had been killed in World War One, the last of them in the shock units that led the offensives of 1917. T hus they entered the civil war with a depleted force.

Further, each of the White fronts had the misfortune of being based on the peripheries of the Russian heartland. For Denikin's Volunteer Army this meant that cooperation with and concessions to his Cossack hosts was vital. For most of its existence, Yudenich's Northwestern Army had to be based on the foreign soil of Estonia. Miller's Northern Army and Kolchak's Siberian Army were located in areas where the people looked at the civil war with an almost completely indifferent eye. They had not yet tasted the full impact of Bolshevism. Moreover, the northern region had few inhabitants. Kolchak had the additional disadvantage of having his entire rear area in the hands of the Allies and the Czechs whom he could not command, and the Cossack warlords whom he could not control. These facts placed limitations on the courses of action available to the White leadership.

These fronts were separated by hundreds of miles and lacked any means of direct communication. Consequently, the fronts never joined and one White offensive was unable to act synchronously with another. Thus, when Denikin advanced in 1919, Kolchak's forces already were in retreat. Yudenich did manage to time his move against Petrograd at the height of Denikin's advance on Moscow, but his knowledge of conditions and positions on the Southern Front were vague and his own forces were too few. Moreover, the Whites, unlike the Reds, could not transition their best or elite troops from front to front where they were needed most.

On a more subtle, psychological level, the Whites also were at a disadvantage. Although the majority of the younger White commanders easily adapted to the new methods of war, as did the best of their Red counterparts, the Whites were more bound to tradition and accepted standards of war. Prisoners could be whipped or brought in roped to a Cossack horse or summarily executed, villages could be pillaged, and women occasionally raped. Yet, with the exceptions of the brutal White warlords in the Far East, at no time did the 'White '['error' equal the sheer volume or pervasiveness of the 'Red Terror' or their methods approach the barbarous nature exacted by some units of the Red Army and the Cheka.

All too often, constitutional niceties, and traditional standards of behaviour prevailed. In his memoirs, Wrangel lamented that he had not been able to find enough labour to strengthen his critical Crimean defenses in 1920. Conscripting the population into labour armies, as the Reds did, habitually, seems never to have occurred to him. In early 1920, Wrangel rhetorically asked General Mai-Maevsky about the difference between White and Red and received a telling reply:

'Is not the whole difference simply that the Bolshevists have not scrupled about their means, and therefore have gained the upper hand?'

Allied intervention turned out to be a mixed blessing. Intervention did bolster the morale of White units and administrations, and did convey a sense of legitimacy. Britain, France and the United States sent large shipments of supplies to the Whites; however, substantial munitions and equipment did not begin arriving until spring 1919, and the majority did not reach the White fronts until summer. The Whites, therefore, accomplished much in the early period on their own. Military aid, of course, was beneficial, and quite necessary, given the much larger Red industrial capacity. At the same time, the Allies used their superior naval forces to impose an economic blockade on the Red centre.

Allied action against the anti-White forces was always peripheral - in the Far East, in the Caspian, in the far north and against the Red Navy and shore forts along the Baltic. American and Japanese units cooperated against large formations of Red partisans in the Far East, but only in the north, on the Murmansk and Archangel Fronts, did Allied military units openly engage regular units of the Red Army on a sustained basis. However, for political as well as geographical reasons, these northern fronts either failed to capture Petrograd or link with the forces of Admiral Kolchak. Instructors attached to the Allied Military Missions, of course, did provide training on various hardware, including tanks, aircraft, machine guns and artillery. Not a few became ardent supporters of the White cause, engaging the enemy, if against official orders, when the opportunity arose.

One perennial question is whether direct and forceful Allied intervention could have overturned Bolshevism. The obvious answer is of course yes, at least militarily and immediately. If the British had landed 50,000 men in the Baltic in autumn 1919, coordinated with Yudenich, encouraged the Estonians to expand their contribution, and/or influenced Finland to attack Petrograd from the north, the Bolshevik seat of revolution would have fallen. Miller could have pushed his reliable troops south from Eake Onega, Kolchak could have regained the Urals or Volga and Denikin and the Cossacks could have delivered the crushing blow to the Bolshevik administrative capital, Moscow.

But this historical 'what if was not to be. Worn out in World War One, eager to demobilize and return to a peacetime footing, confused by the plethora of international challenges wanting solutions in the post-war environment, the Allies talked, prevaricated, then sent supplies and munitions, and finally condolences. Few, the gallant Winston Churchill and the ardent US Ambassador Francis aside, yet understood the full ramifications of Bolshevism.

On the other hand, Allied Intervention allowed Bolshevik agitators to hammer home the message that Russia had been invaded and to adopt the position that they were the true defenders of the homeland. Posters depicted the Whites as puppets of the Allies, vicious hirelings of international capital. Intervention allowed the Bolsheviks to dodge the very important and embarrassing fact that there had been considerable internal opposition to their policies. The impact of this propaganda increased from the 1920s and continued at least into the early 1980s, bolstering the Soviet position during the Cold War that the West had invaded Russia, not the other way around. In its crudest form, resistance to Soviet authority had been nothing more than actions paid for by the imperialists.

The Russian Civil War profoundly affected the remainder of the 20th century. Red victory unleashed a doctrine that was international in intent and bent on directly challenging the methods of capitalism, democracy and the general world order. By the end of World War Two, the Soviets were in a sufficiently strong military, economic and geographical position to promote communist revolutions worldwide, from Eastern Europe to China and Southeast Asia to Africa and the Caribbean. These revolutions led them directly into

Cold War Leaders Dogs

ABOVE The civil war set the stage for the future Cold War Here the Americans, French and British are portrayed as hound-masters with the dogs Denikm, Kolchak andYudenich on leash. Soviet leaders could always assert, truthfully, that the Western powers had occupied their soil, (Soviet art card, c. 1919)

ABOVE The civil war set the stage for the future Cold War Here the Americans, French and British are portrayed as hound-masters with the dogs Denikm, Kolchak andYudenich on leash. Soviet leaders could always assert, truthfully, that the Western powers had occupied their soil, (Soviet art card, c. 1919)

BELOW A less-than-flattering Soviet depiction of Allied Intervention in North Russia. The Americans herd Bolshevik sympathizers toward a staff car Inside sits an aged White general and a stern British officer. Surrounding the car are White officers, the one just to the left wearing the Russian national colours of red, blue and white on a strip of cloth affixed diagonally on his hat. (Painting by R R Sokolov-Skalia, Soviet art card. c. 1920s)

Tsaritsyn Stalin

confrontation witb the West in a nearly half-century period known as the Cold War.

The civil war exacted a deadly loll on its participants. Casualties among the White leadership were severe. Among the field officers, it was not uncommon for the proportion of wounded and killed in action to exceed 50-90 per cent, depending on the particular unit, front and year. Deaths among the senior commanders that can be attributed to battle action, illness contracted while on campaign, or execution by the Bolsheviks included Kornilov, Markov and Alexiev in 1918, Drozdovsky In 1919, Mai-Maevsky, Kolchak, Kalmykov, Romanovsky and Kappel in 1920, and von Ungern-Sternberg in 1921.

In exile, the Whites continued to dream of returning to Russia with an army to overthrow communism. They kept contacts and maintained paramilitary formations under arms until the late 1920s and in cadet training schools throughout the 1930s. Meanwhile, the Soviets relentlessly pursued their enemies throughout the world, conducting a brutal war in the shadows from the 1920s until the end of the 1940s.

Bolshevik agents shot Dutov and Pokrovsky in the 1920s. Wrangel, according to his son Alexis, was slowly poisoned, and died in 1928. Kutepov and Miller were abducted and executed in the 1930s, while Pepelyaev, already in captivity, was shot.

Ukrainian Civil War Hanged

R Kotov's rendering of Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko during the civil war when he commanded a brigade in the I st Horse Army. He became a Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1940 and fought in World War Two.

Many Soviet generals and political leaders into the 1960s, including Nlkita Khrushchev and Alexel Kosygin, served in the civil war (Central Museum of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army art card, c. 1930)

Skoblin vanished in the tangled web of espionage that was Paris in those days. Evidence suggests he had been 'turned' then liquidated. Another source indicates he died a hero's death in the Spanish Civil War fighting the communists. The last of the diehards and their sons fought the Reds in World War Two. Semenov, Shkuro and Krasnov were captured and hanged by the Soviets in 1946-47.

A few survived these crucibles to live on relatively peacefully in exile. Bermondt-Avalov died in the United States, as did Denikin in 1947 and Kerensky in 1970. Dieterichs died in China in 1937, while Vudenich expired on the French Riviera that same year. Kolchak's love, Madame Temirova, reached France where she lived in obscurity and vanished from the historical record.

Similarly, the civil war thinned the ranks of the Red commanders. Two leaders killed in action, Nikolai Schors (Shchors in Ukrainian) and Vasily Chapaev, were immortalized in Soviet movies and therefore received international attention: Schors in 1939 and Chapaev in 1935. Chapaev died a hero under fire in 1919 before his rollicksome, independent ways could embarrass the future Soviet leadership. Other fallen commanders like Sivers or Markin generally would not be known outside the areas of the former Soviet Union.

Ironically, the greatest danger to former Bolshevik commanders lay not in the civil war but in its aftermath and from the very party and comrades they had served so loyally. Most died in the elaborately staged show trials of the 1930s, ordered by the Soviet Union's new dictator, Stalin, who intended to eliminate any conceivable competitors possessing ambition or talent. Frunze died first in 1925, mysteriously, during a stomach operation that had been recommended and arranged personally by Stalin. Vatsctis, whose Latvian Rifles arguably saved the Revolution, was accused of being a fascist and executed in 1938. Tukachevsky and Blyukher were brutally tortured prior to their executions in 1937 and 1938, Egorov followed in 1939.

Many high-level Bolshevik political leaders also perished before, during and after the show trials. Lenin died in January 1924 due to medical complications resulting from the attempt on his life in July 1918, Before his death he warned colleagues against the growing power of Stalin, who had become Secretary of the Communist Party in April 1922. A political coup staged by Stalin forced Trotsky, whom many considered the natural successor to Lenin, into exile in 1928.

Thereafter, Trotsky's name became synonymous with 'fascist' and 'counter-revolutionary'. Stalin's judiciary accused victims of conspiring with Trotsky to commit crimes against the Soviet state in order to establish their 'guilt' during the kangaroo-court proceedings. Once the trials were over, Trotsky was no longer useful politically. A Soviet agent stabbed him to death with an ice pick at his house of exile in Mexico in 1940.

The political comradeship formed by Stalin, Voroshilov and Budenny during the sieges of Tsaritsyn in 1918-19 endured through World War Two to the end of their days. Stalin died in his bed in 1953, Voroshilov following in 1969 and Budenny in 1973. Several veterans of the civil war such as Zhukov, Tlmoshenko, Chuikov, Konev, and Rokossovksv, the first two having served in Budenny's 1st Horse Army, went on to receive important commands in World War Two. Two other veterans, Nikita Khrushchev and Alexei Kosygin, became key players on the world stage, Khrushchev as First Secretary of the Communist Party from 1953 to 1964, and Kosygin as Premier of the Soviet Union from 1964 to 1980.

Reconciliation between White and Red began in 1985 when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev promulgated the policies of ¿Utmost (openness) and perestroika (reform). For the first time, Soviet scholars could begin coming to terms with the civil war and studying all sides without significant fear of political retaliation. They began reaching out to emigre communities and opening Western archives. 1'his process accelerated throughout the 1990s after the fall of communism in Russia under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. By the turn of the millennium, museums in Russia and the Ukraine had begun displays showcasing the former opponents of the Bolshevik regime: the Whites, the Ukrainian and other nationalist forces and even the Anarchists, including Nestor Makhno.

Interest in imperial Russia, after years of suppression, emerged and intensified. News that the remains of five members of the royal family had been discovered near Ekaterinburg (where they had been shot and butchered in July 1918) reached the Russian people in March 1991. On 17 July 1998, on the 80th anniversary of their deaths, the bodies of the tsar, tsarina and three of their daughters were buried in the St Peter and Paul Cathedral, St Petersburg, The remains of the last two members of the royal family would not be discovered until August 2007.

Finally, in the 21st century, the Whites started to come home. Russian citizens erected a statue to Admiral Kolchak in St Petersburg in 2002 and in Irkutsk in 2004. In 2005, the Irkutsk Brewery bottled and canned a spicy beer called 'Admiral Kolchak', with the admiral's colour portrait on the label. A new movie, Admiral Kolchak, appeared in Russian theatres in 2008.

In October 2005, General Denikin's body was transferred from the St Vladimir Russian Cemetery in Jackson, New Jersey, USA, and interred in the Donskoi Monastery, Moscow. Shortly after, President Vladimir Putin approved the application of Marina Antonovna Denikina, the general's daughter, for citizenship in the new nationalist Russia. Then, in December 2CX)6, forensic scientists discovered General Kappel's remarkably well-preserved remains In Harbin, China. T hese were transferred to the Donskoi Monastery in Moscow for reburial on 13 January 2007.

Today, Russia is a texture of symbols, memorials and statues that would have been recognizable to both Whites and Reds. Red flags have returned to the military, shorn of communist references, as have military patches and national flags with the former Russian tricolor. After briefly disappearing during the Yeltsin years, the old Soviet national anthem, one of the most inspiring in the world, is back, but with different words -words suggesting a new dawn, new unity and the healing of the old wounds of civil war.

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  • tomba fairbairn
    What is the message of the poster with the dogs denikin, kolchak and yudenich?
    9 years ago

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