USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Russian Civil War and its Aftermath

The Russian Civil War is a highly complicated affair involving many factions and interests, but at its heart it was a struggle between the Bolshevik Red Army and the former Russian military establishment, or Whites, and whomever they could muster in common cause against the Bolsheviks. Over the next few years the Bolshevik Red Army slowly and steadily gained the upper hand, all the while building a massive militarized organization, complete with a terroristic secret police, the Cheka, which was charged with eliminating “Whites.” In the first months of its existence in 1918 and 1919, Cheka forces executed around 8,400 people and arrested another 80,000. The seeds of Bolshevik terror were planted quite early on.

By the end of the civil war, the Bolsheviks had created a massive military and little else. They had formed a powerful officer corps, a huge fighting force and elite and dedicated police units. Economically, the Bolsheviks had oriented all territory under their control toward supporting their military aims. The effects of the combination of the First World War, the Russian Civil War, and the Bolshevik attack on peasant institutions meant agricultural disaster. By the early 1920s, Bolshevik Russia could not feed its people. Deaths by disease and starvation in the aftermath of the Civil War outnumbered those who died fighting in the First World War and the Russian Civil War combined. The country as a whole was desperate. Russia’s economic strategy during the conflict, known as ‘War Communism,” was a failure in just about every respect.

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