1917 memories (Russian Revolution anniversary)




“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end.


One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”


George Orwell




“The Russian revolution was to an unprecedented degree the cause of the proletariat of the whole world becoming more revolutionary.”





Karl Liebknecht




1917 is the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution … and the beginning of the Russian Civil War.


In fact … today marks the official anniversary of Russian Revolution.


We, in the United States, tend to skim over much of the details of the Russian Revolution mostly because there was no one ‘big’ battle and … well … we tend to think it had to be like our civil war <or Revolutionary War>.

It was not.

It was long, brutal and complex.


The Guardian offered a nice “Revolution must-read” list of books so I will offer mine.


On my bookshelves I have a number of excellent hard to find books on the Russian Revolution which I hope I never have to sell.


  • The Lost Legion <most likely my most prized obscure possession> by Gustav Becvar 1939


  • The Russian Revolution Alan Moorehead 1958


  • Hunted through Central Asia: On the Run from Lenin’s secret Police by Pavel Nazaroff 1932


  • The White Generals: The White Movement and the Russian Civil War by Richard Luckett 1971


  • The Midnight War: The American Intervention In Russia, 1918 1920 by Richard Goldhurst 1978


  • The Life & Death of Lenin by Robert Payne 1964


Several of these are slightly hard to find <Lost Legion only comes in a pamphlet and has been out of print for … well … since published>.

It is also interesting to note <in The Midnight War> that America DID send soldiers to fight.  In July 1918 5,000 United States Army troops, known as the “American North Russia Expeditionary Force” were sent to Arkhangelsk (Archangel) while another 8,000 soldiers, organized as the American Expeditionary Force Siberia were shipped to Vladivostok.




The Russian Civil War tore Russia apart for three years – between 1918 and 1921. The civil war was not just two sided … after November 1917 several groups formed to oppose Lenin’s Bolsheviks – monarchists, militarists, some foreign nations, separatists & a bunch of opportunists.

Collectively, they were known as the Whites and the Bolsheviks were known as the Reds.


On March 8, 1917, Russia’s February Revolution (so named because of the Julian calendar that Russians still used at the time) began with rioting and strikes in St. Petersburg (Petrograd). The unrest was triggered primarily by food shortages in the city, which were caused by the wider problems of a worsening economy and repeated failures on the battlefields of World War I.

When the strikes and riots began, they did not appear to pose a threat to the Russian monarchy headed by Czar Nicholas II. The New York Times ran a dispatch to The London Daily News with a March 9 dateline. Its reporter attested, “A number of causes, working together, brought the crisis momentarily to a head, although I do not personally believe there can be serious trouble while the Duma [the Russian legislature] is sitting.”

However, in the ensuing days, the protests grew and began to take on a different tone. In “The History of the Russian Revolution,” Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky recounted, “The slogan ‘Bread!’ is crowded out or obscured by louder slogans: ‘Down with autocracy!’ ‘Down with the war!’”


Czar Nicholas, who had survived a revolution in 1905, did not have the widespread support of the Russian people. He ordered Russian troops to suppress the protests, but many refused and instead joined the protesters. On March 15, having lost control over his people and his authorities, the czar abdicated his throne to his brother, who refused to accept it.


Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin returned from exile in April and his Bolshevik Party gained influence through the summer. Riots in July, which the Bolsheviks attempted to take control of, nearly toppled the government. In November, the Bolsheviks easily overthrew the provisional government in a coup known as the October Revolution or Bolshevik Revolution and transferred power to the Petrograd Soviet.


The October Revolution along with the February Revolution comprised the Russian Revolution of 1917, and led to the creation of the world’s first socialist state and the formation of the Soviet Union in 1922.


At the end of 1917, the Bolsheviks only effectively controlled Petrograd, Moscow and the territory between both cities. With the fall of Nicholas II, many parts of the Russian empire took the opportunity to declare their independence. Finland did so in March 1918 – and collapsed into a civil war itself. The Whites, led by Mannerheim, were helped by the Germans – Luderndorff even contemplated putting a German prince in power in Finland once the Whites had won. With German help, the Finnish Whites pushed back the Finnish-Russo border and Petrograd was almost within artillery range.


Within Russia itself, those who opposed the Bolsheviks looked to the western powers for help. For their own benefit, the western powers wanted to re-establish an Eastern Front so that the German Army would be split once again, thus relieving the problems being experienced on the Western Front.


In the south of Russia, the resistance to the Bolsheviks was led by Kornilov. He based himself in Rostov to start with. Many former officers, who had survived the war, went to join him.


Socialist Revolutionaries, who had been members of the dispersed Constituent Assembly, grouped in the Lower Volga under the leadership of Chernov. A Socialist Revolutionary group had established an autonomous regime just east of Omsk which claimed to govern the whole of Siberia. They also seized the vital eastern city of Vladivostok.


The monarchist, Colonel Semenov, also established his own autonomous government in Trans-Baikalia where he ruled like a war lord. Semenov was also to cause the Bolsheviks many problems.


In Manchuria, General Horvat, who had been the tsar’s military-governor of the region, established another conservative government.


Czech prisoners-of-war, who had joined the Russian army after being captured from the Austrian army, joined the ranks of Kerensky, and it was these men who won Kerensky’s initial successes in the civil war. Known as the Czech Legion <the Lost Legion>, they fought the Germans as a separate unit under the leadership of Masaryk until Brest-Litovsk ended that fighting. Trotsky gave them his agreement that they had his permission to travel through Russia to the Western Front so that they could continue their campaign against the Germans. The one proviso was that the Czechs had to leave their weapons behind. As soon as the first units of the Czechs surrendered their weapons, the Red Guards shot them. This was to prove a costly error as it was obvious that the other men could not trust what Trotsky had promised. The Czech Legion was made up of seasoned soldiers with plenty of fighting experience. They captured the strategic city of Simbirsk and between May 1918 and August 1918, captured so much territory  that they controlled the Trans-Siberian railway from Simbirsk to Vladivostok.


Men flocked to join the Red Army – not necessarily because they believed in what the Reds stood for but because Lenin had ordered that supplies of food went first to soldiers – what was left went to those who lived in the cities.


Lenin also imposed an iron grip on territory under the control of the Bolsheviks. The party had a secret police unit (called the Cheka, which was to change its title to the NKVD & eventually the KGB) which was ruthless in hunting out possible opponents to Lenin. In many areas of Russia, where the Bolsheviks had control, the NKVD was judge, jury and executioner. Its power was massively extended after August 30th, 1918. On this day the Socialist Revolutionary Kaplin shot and wounded Lenin.



Trotsky was also not fighting a cohesive unit. The Whites were made up of many groups – groups that hated each other as much as they hated the Reds. With no cohesiveness to them, the Whites were on the whole a hopelessly uncoordinated group that fell out with each other. Though on a map of Russia, it looked as if the Reds were being attacked from all sides, such attacks were disunited and dislocated. The fact that so many groups existed, meant that no one person could be appointed to act as their sole commander. With no unified leadership, the Whites were much weakened.


Lenin decided to cut his losses and agreed to the Treaty of Riga on March 18th 1921. As a result of this treaty, about 10 million Ukranians and White Russians were put under Polish rule. The Treaty of Riga brought to an end the Russian Civil War. Within Russia, the Communist government under Lenin was now secure.



, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Written by Bruce