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Ram Seegobin on Counter-Revolution: The Civil War after the Russian Revolution


People often ask what happened to the Russian Revolution.

 This short article by Ram Seegobin gives an idea of some of the attacks on the Revolution in the immediate wake of the Revolution.

 After the Russian Revolution, in which the working class took power, and all the different Soviets that gathered their delegates from amongst workers and soldiers and peasants became the seats of power in October 1917, for the next four whole years, there was a backlash of reactionary forces that built up a constant civil war. The estimates of those killed during the Civil War vary from 7 to 12 million people. What is certain is many of the best working class and peasant leaders – leaders at the grassroots – gave their lives.

 To understand the nature of this civil war, we need to bear in mind some important background facts:

- The Russian Revolution happened during the First World War (as it was later called – it was then called “The Great War”).

- The immense size of the territory of the Russian Empire; this made it very difficult for the revolutionaries to gain control of it all during the seizing of power, especially difficult to gain power everywhere at the same time.

- There was the rallying of all the counter-revolutionary military forces both in Russia and from outside; this violent counter-revolution, was led by Tzarists, merchants and capitalists, who were then supported by the armies of States that got together like a bande de malfaiteurs to run a military campaign against the Revolution.

 So, at the time of the October Revolution, Russia was right in the middle of the war against Germany, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the war, literally millions of soldiers and Russian civilians had already lost their lives. Food production was already low, what with million of the peasants who produced food crops conscripted to trench warfare at the Front.

 The Revolution had promised to end the war, and to bring peace. So, in December, 1917, the new revolutionary government in Russia signed an armistice, stopped all fighting. During negotiations, Leon Trotsky represented the new revolutionary government, and he agreed “no peace – no war” and headed for the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, and Russia was out of the war. But the other signatories exacted their pounds of flesh: around a quarter of the people of the former Russian Empire, around a quarter of its industries and 90% of its coal mines were shared out to other States, as punishment for the early Peace. And in 1919, the Treaty of Versailles ended the Great War, and the rest of the carving up of territory continued. The Bolsheviks had thought that the exposure to the workers of all the other countries of the base reasons for the war would spur on workers’ revolution against the ruling classes unveiled greed and cruelty. And though there were many strikes and uprisings in Germany, the counter-revolution won there, before the revolution could take form.

 So, that gives an idea of the backdrop of the Great War.

 But to get back to the October Revolution in 1917:  Its success did not mean that all the reactionaries disappeared. On the country the success of the revolution provoked all the anti-Bolshevik forces, like landowners, big estates’ owners, capitalists, royalists and other reactionaries. They all gathered and set up a White Army, as they called it after the colour of the old deposed Monarchy, an army that relied on the conscription of peasants and on Cossacks. 

 So, the White Army controlled part of Russian territory. But they did so with a lot of help. The armies of nine countries mobilized to support them. From Europe, there was Great Britain, France, Italy, Greece, Serbia and Tchekoslovakia.  From Asie, there was China (remember the Chinese Revolution is way into the future) and Japan. And from the Americas, the United States of America. They all sent troops to fight the revolutionary forces that were gathered in the Red Army.

 Why did armies from nine countries rally to support the White Army, the counter-revolution. Firstly, it was to counter any possibility that a “communist” Russia might give the workers of their own countries an example of how to make a revolution work. Secondly, as always, there was money in it. The Bolshevik Government had already announced that it would not respect the war debts run up by the Tzarist regime. The Tzarists had run up huge debts with the banks of these countries.

 To face this double counter-revolutionary offensive (the White Army and the armies of nine nation states), the Red Army had to re-organize really fast. Trotsky was put in charge of the military and he had his own special train that would steam off all over Russia, and he would then ride around on a horse, giving encouragement to the Red Army all over the country this way.

 To conclude, the Red Army, against all the odds won against both the White Army and the armies of nine different nation states.

 This article by Ram Seegobin is based on his notes for his short speech at the LALIT Celebration of the Russian Revolution Centenary on 8 October. His actual speech, influenced by other speakers before him and not at all glued to his notes, is available in Kreol. There were six other short speeches on different aspects of the Revolution. The order of the speeches was:

 Introduction – by Rada

What is the Russian Revolution? - Tony

The Build Up to the Revolution, especially from February to October, 1917 - Ragini

The role of a Party in the Revolution - Rajni

The importance of the Soviets in the Revolution - Alain

This paper on the Civil War - Ram

The Stalinist counter-revolution, including as opposed to internationalism - Lindsey