The Origins of the Russian Civil War

The Origins of the Russian Civil War

The Origins of the Russian Civil War

The Origins of the Russian Civil War

Synopsis

Concentrating on the turbulent months from February 1917 to November 1918, Geoffrey Swain explores the origins of the Civil War against the wider background of revolutionary Russia. He examines the aims of the anti-Bolshevik insurgents themselves; but he also shows how far the fear of civil war governed the action of the Provisional Government, and even the plans of the Bolsheviks. If the war itself can seem a fairly straightforward line-up of revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries, this study reveals how complex were the motives of the people who precipitated it.

Excerpt

To the general public all that is known of the Russian Civil War is a dim memory of the film version of Boris Pasternak Doctor Zhivago, of trains, of snow, and of bloodshed. To those with slightly more historical knowledge, the civil war was between Reds and Whites, between Bolsheviks and generals with strange names; and one of the generals actually an admiral, for some inexplicable reason leading an army in Siberia thousands of miles from the sea. To the more politically aware, the Russian Civil War showed the true nature of the imperialist stage of capitalist development, when a wide array of rival imperial powers -- Britain, France, Japan, and the USA -- sank their differences in a determined effort to destroy the first socialist state in the world by rallying to the White cause.

Yet even when approached through Doctor Zhivago, the civil war seems rather confusing, right and wrong are hard to determine, who exactly was fighting whom is not always clear; and for much of the novel Zhivago himself is fighting not with the Reds or the Whites, but with the Greens. Equally, when historians try to explain how the White generals could make such dramatic advances towards Moscow in 1919, followed by even more dramatic retreats, they have sought an explanation in the activities of Green commanders such as the peasant anarchist leader Nestor Makhno who was allied to the Bolsheviks, but remained independent of them. The civil war, it seems, was not fought between two sides, but three: the Whites are easy to identify, but their opponents were not all Bolsheviks, and those opposing the Bolsheviks from the democratic camp were far from always united. This ambivalence of the anti-White forces, so characteristic of developments throughout the civil war, is an echo of an earlier civil war, a war between Reds and Greens, between Bolsheviks and moderate socialists that is all too easily forgotten.

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