Table of Contents
Section 5
World War One and the Destruction of the Old Order

Red Verses White – The Russian Revolution

Civil War

With peace established with Germany, the war continued within the boundaries of Russia. As Lenin attempted to gain control over the whole country, forces loyal to the Tsar or that were anti-communist gathered strength to oppose him. This created a three-year civil war over control of the Russian state. The forces led by Lenin and the Bolsheviks were called the “Reds,” (red has been the color of revolution since the French Revolution) while forces opposed to him where termed “White” (white has traditionally been the color of royalty).

The White forces received support from the Western Allies during the internal war. The United States, England and Canada had contingents of men inside of Russia initially to guard supplies they had sent during the war, but they were in a position to fight if their governments thought necessary.

The Red Army was able to defeat the much larger White armies over the course of the three-year conflict. The Red Army was led by fanatical communists who were prepared to do what ever was necessary to preserve the revolution. White forces were in many cases, composed of men that were not dedicated to restoring the Tsar. A number of Red victories led to the defeat of the White forces and their dreams of returning to the rule of the Tsars.

During the civil war, Lenin imposed “War Communism” to ensure victory. For rural peasants, this meant that the food they produced was seized without payment. In the cities, workers were forbidden to strike and placed under military discipline. The results of these measures allowed the Reds to win the civil war, but caused horrible problems for the future. Farm peasants refused to plant more crops as they believed that the communists were going to take it anyway. This led to a famine that claimed the lives of 7.5 million Russians. Millions of others lived just above the starvation level.

Lenin also saw the need to stabilize the government and country by eliminating people who did not support the revolution. This period became known as the “Red Terror.” During the terror, Lenin had people inside and outside of the party eliminated to ensure the success of the communist takeover (the Bolsheviks changed their name to the Communist Party in 1918). Thousands of people disappeared during the purge, but the plan helped control the opposition to the Communist Party.

The idea of “war communism” began to receive opposition from communist themselves. The harsh treatment of people under Lenin’s plan caused a major uprising by sailors at the Kronstadt Naval Base. They were ruthlessly executed for resisting the party’s plans, but the uprising forced Lenin to re-examine his policies.