The Russian Civil War (Part 2)

by James Graham

While undeniably a political movement the White leaders were all military men who disliked politics and thus largely ignored it. This meant that they could organise an effective military but not an effective civil administration. Without which the regime could not sustain the armies at the fronts. Central to this was the failure to mobilise the local populations in the areas the Whites controlled. Right and centre-right parties predominated in the White governments and these parties never had much popular support in Russia. Together with the generals they ruled out any form of land reform.


The average peasant preferred the Soviet program of peace, land reform and worker control as the lesser of the two evils. With these sentiments it is little wonder four out of five peasants forcibly conscripted deserted the White cause many to the Reds. While the Red army lost four million men up to 1921 their population base allowed them to replace these losses more easily than the Whites could. Under such conditions the Whites relied heavily on terror to administer local regions. The result being the Green revolts which drew precious White troops from the front. The Whites failure to agree to land reform lost them the mass support they so desperately required.

Control of the heartland of Russia gave the Reds many advantages. They controlled the largest chunk of the population and most of the war industry. The Red Army outnumbered the White armies by ten to one. Furthermore its population was ethnically homogenous containing mostly Great Russians. The Whites on the other hand gained a large amount of their support from ethnic minorities. Support was often given in the hope of gaining some form of independence in the future. White leaders however believed in a "Russia, one and indivisible." This created much internal bickering in the White organisation with ethnic groups like the Cossacks often refusing to fight. Moscow and Petrograd also stayed in Red hands for the entire Civil War. The symbolic importance of this fact is summed up by Lebedev one of the White leaders in Siberia "In Moscow we would get the whole brain of our country, all her soul, all that is talented in Russia." The Soviet government had many initial advantages over the White forces.

Geography also aided the Reds and hindered the Whites. The three main White armies were all located at opposite ends of Russia. There was a 10,500 kilometres voyage between Denikin's and Kolchak's armies. This distance made communication extremely difficult something the Reds with control of the existing communications networks had an advantage in. The large size of Russia also gave the Reds strategic depth. When under attack on one front they could safely give ground until troops were transferred from other fronts to repel the attack. Geographically Russia was unsuited to the attacking White armies.

The Civil War was fought between the Reds and the Whites with many other factions, groups and nations involved. Considering the enormous difficulties the Whites faced it should not be asked why they lost the Civil War. The question is why they did so well for so long against an enemy technically superior in almost all aspects.

The Russian Civil War

The Russian Civil War (Part 1)
The Russian Civil War (Bibliography)