Sunday, January 19, 2020

Russian Civil War was Not Reds vs. Whites but Soviet Army vs. Nationalists and Interventionists, Shirokorad Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – The Russian civil war was not between “reds” and “whites” as many in Russia and elsewhere think but between the Workers and Peasants Red Army, on the one hand, and non-Russian nationalists and foreign interventionists, on the other, according to Aleksandr Shirokorad.

            As Russia approaches the centenary of the end of the Civil War, at least in the European portion of Soviet Russia, the historian and popular writer says, there are many myths to be dispelled and many lessons yet to be learned from that conflict, lessons that have important consequences for the future (

            Perhaps the most widely-held myth which must be dispelled, Shirokorad says, is that the civil war was between the reds and the whites. The numbers show that that was not the case.  At the end of that conflict, Baron Wrangel had approximately 70,000 troops under his command, Confronting him in Crimea were units of the Red Army numbering some 60,000.

            But at that moment, he points out, the Red Army had five million men.  Where were the 4,940,000 who weren’t fighting Wrangel? They were fighting the Finns in Karelia, the Poles in Ukraine and Belarus, the Dashnaks and Mensheviks in the Trans-Caucasus, the nationalists in the North Caucasus, the Basmachi in Central Asia, and interventionists in many places.

            The imbalance between the Red Army and the Whites and the nationalists and interventionists is even greater than that suggests. There were never more than 300,000 troops in the White Armies while there were “a minimum of two to three million” troops from the nationalists and the interventionists.

            These figures make everything clear, Shirokorad says. “The civil war was between the reds on the one hand and the nationalists supported by the interventionists on the other. Parallel and independent from this was a second and far smaller war between the reds and the whites.”

            Who then “won” the civil war? According to the historian, “the Red Army won 80 percent of it. Why not 100 percent? Because it wasn’t able to recover a number of territories of the former Russian empire which were seized by nationalists supported by the Entente.”  Finnish, Polish and Baltic nationalists won 100 percent. And the British Empire even more.

            Present-day official historians present the struggle in 1920 in Crimea as a planetary one between the Reds and the Whites. But that is nonsense, Shirokorad says. Wrangel could easily have held on to the peninsula but he wanted to withdraw so that the Western powers would intervene with him in 1921.

            That might have happened with the tens of thousands of White Russian troops in Turkey had it not been for Lenin’s clever “second Brest-Litovsk” treaty in which he gave Turkey Kars and much else in exchange for Ankara’s blocking the use of Turkey as a base to launch attacks on Soviet Russia.

            Shirokorad’s article, which appeared in Nezavisimoye voennoye obozreniye, is certain to be controversial not only because of his overall view but because he insists the Russian civil war began not with the Bolshevik seizure of power but immediately after the fall of the Romanov Dynasty in February 1917 and that there were three centers of power in 1917, the Provisional Government, the soviets, and the military and not two as standard historiography holds.

            But it is certain to spark two kinds of debate which the Kremlin may find problematic. On the one hand, it will renew albeit from a different perspective Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s argument in the GULAG Archipelago that the Russians in contrast to the non-Russians did not resist the Soviets.

            When that appeared, Yuri Srechinsky, the deputy editor of New York’s Novoye russkoye slovo, published a pamphlet arguing that Russians resisted as much or more than any other nation. His booklet, How We Submitted? The Price of October (in Russian), deserves to be better known (

            Many Russian nationalists like Srechinsky object to the notion that they flocked to the Bolsheviks although others accept that argument.  Shirokorad’s numbers will only add fuel to that fire.

            But on the other hand, his suggestion that it was the Russians in the Red Army and their fight against non-Russians supported by outsiders may discredit the non-Russians in the eyes of some – indeed, that may be the purpose behind Shirokorad’s argument, but it will also make it far more difficult to suggest that the non-Russians were mostly allies of Moscow.

            That creates problems for the Kremlin both directly and because many non-Russians will make use of this article to boost their own national movements, insisting that it shows that they were pursuing independence far earlier than the standard Muscovite version of history allows.

No comments:

Post a Comment