Russian Civil War

multi-party war in the former Russian Empire, November 1917-October 1922

The Russian Civil War was a civil war fought from November 1917 to October 1922 between several groups in Russia. The main fighting was between the Red Army and the White Army. The Red Army was communist, and the White Army was anticommunist. Other forces fought against both groups or sometimes helped one of them against the other. Foreign countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom, France and the United States sent troops to help the divided White Army. The Red Army won the war because it was better-organized, more than united and held the best territory. After the war, the communists established the Soviet Union in 1922.

Tsar Nicholas II, the traditional autocratic ruler of the Russian Empire, had just lost his throne in the February Revolution of 1917. Many regions of the Russian Empire were not stable Many groups had organized themselves to fight. The workers and the farmers supporting the communists organized themselves into the Red Army. People opposing them organized themselves into the White Army.

In Ukraine, some groups fighting for a free Ukraine organized themselves as the Green Army. There were several other groups. The Green Army and the smaller groups fought each other, and they sometimes fought the Red Army and the White Army. Other nationalist armies fought for independence from any kind of Russian control. Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia succeeded.

At the same time, some foreign countries were worried about the communists ruling the Russia. They feared that communism would come to their countries if the communists were successful and so they helped fight against the communists’ Red Army. They started the Siberian Intervention and otherwise helped the White Army. Slowly, the war became very large and continued for years.


The Red Army and the White Army fought this war on three main fronts. These regions were located in the east, the south, and the northwest of what became the Soviet Union. The outbreak of the Russian Civil War and its large scale surprised Vladimir Lenin. There were also three main periods of the war.

Soon after the Russian Revolution of 1917, the first period of the Russian Civil War began. Most of the fighting was then small-scale, but it started in many places.

The second period of the Russian Civil War was very important and lasted from January to November 1919. At first, the White Army was winning on all three fronts and was helped by foreign countries. However, Leon Trotsky reorganized the Red Army and helped it fight back. The White Armies had heavy losses and lost most of their fighting power.

The third and final period of the war involved fighting in Crimea. Many soldiers of the White Army had gathered there and had made their position very secure and strong. The Red Army continued to fight with them. When the Polish-Soviet War ended with Polish independence, more soldiers of the Red Army could reinforce their comrades in Crimea. Thay action defeated the White Army in November 1920. Fighting continued against nationalists in the Caucusus in the early 1920s.


  • About 8 million people lost their lives during the Russian Civil War. About one million were soldiers of the Red Army.
  • The anti-communists and the White Army killed at least 50,000 communists.
  • Many millions of people also died due to famine, starvation and epidemics. Many Jews were killed in pogroms.


During and after the Russian Civil War, Soviet Russia suffered great damage. In 1920 and 1921, there was little rain, which caused serious famine in 1921. About one million Russians left Russia and went to other countries permanently. Many of them were very educated and expert.

Economic loss was also very large. The value of Russia’s currency, the ruble, fell. In 1914, a US dollar could be bought for 2 rubles. In 1920, it cost 1,200 rubles. Estimates say that the war cost the Soviet Russia around 50 billion rubles, today worth US$35 billion. Production of industrial goods fell greatly. For example, the Soviet Union produced only 5 % of the cotton and only 2 % of the iron ore of the production of 1913. Generally, the production had fallen to 20% of the production of 1913.

The Russian Civil War had was very bad on agriculture as well. Farms produced only 37 % of the normal production. The number of horses fell from 35 million (in 1916) to 24 million (in 1920). The number of cattle also decreased, from 58 million to 37 million.

During the war, the Soviet government somehow managed the country. In March 1921, four months after the defeat of the White Army in Crimea, the Lenin administration abandoned its policy of War Communism and instead formulated the New Economic Policy, which allowed denationalisation of agriculture and industry, but most financial institutions retained state ownership with a deregulation in such sectors. On 30 December 1922, the Soviet Union was formally created, and by 1928, production returned to pre-war levels. Lenin, however, did not live to see that day since he had died in 1924, when Joseph Stalin became the new leader.

People always remembered the results of the First World War and the Russian Civil War, which were very bad for the life and the society for the new Soviet Union.