Hostile Whirlwinds: The Civil War and the Russian Revolution
Updated: Jan 31
A Soviet look at the life-and-death struggle against foreign intervention and counter-revolution that gripped the lands of what was to become the USSR after the revolution.
Red Army forces march through Red Square, Moscow 1918
Fearless we’ll go to fight
For Soviet power,
And every foe we’ll smite
|n this great hour. - Red Army Song.
Published in the January, 1967 issue of the English language magazine Soviet Union Today, this piece by Soviet historian Yefim Gimpelson looked at the titanic, life-and-death struggle against foreign intervention and counter-revolution that gripped the lands that were to become the USSR after the initial triumph of the revolution.
With the active help of military aide and direct military intervention to support domestic counter-revolutionaries, powers like France, England and the United States sought, as Churchill phrased it, to strangle the infant Bolshevism in its cradle.
It is impossible to understand the evolution on the Soviet revolution, state and Soviet socialism without understanding the impact of the Civil War, the capitalist intervention and the encirclement.
To set the stage:
In the summer of 1918, the counter-revolutionary forces were in control of three-quarters of the country's territory. General Denikin’s White Army started out on its march in the south, while General Krasnov’s army was being recruited, with German aid, on the banks of the Don, in the Cossack Vandee. British, American, and French troops landed in the northern city of Murmansk, while Japanese and British forces captured Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast, followed later by American troops. British forces also invaded Transcaucasia and Central Asia. The Volga, the Urals -— an old industrial centre of Russia — and a large part of Siberia were in the hands of Admiral Kolchak. German armies, breaking the Brest Treaty, occupied the Baltic provinces, Byelorussia, Ukraine and headed toward the Caucasus. In November 1918, an Anglo-French naval squadron entered the Black Sea capturing Odessa and Sevastopol and invading the Ukraine.
It seemed as if the small socialist island in the centre of Russia would be swept away by the waves of domestic and foreign counter-revolution.
We know that the heroic revolutionaries and peoples of what became of the USSR, against tremendous odds, actually pushed back the counter-revolutionaries and established the world's first socialist and workers' state.
But the piece goes on to note the tremendous cost and damage at which this came. It also looks at the "War Communism" of the period.
It is a story of incredible resilience and resistance. It also serves as a reminder of the imperialist violence and subversion that any popular anti-capitalist revolution or government anywhere will face and have to overcome just as those like Cuba and Venezuela do today.
The map shows the situation as it developed during the first months of the Civil War and foreign intervention in Russia. In the summer of 1918, the counter-revolutionary forces were in control of three-quarters of the country's territory. General Denikin’s White Army started out on its march in the south, while General Krasnov’s army was being recruited, with German aid, on the banks of the Don, in the Cossack Vandee. British, American, and French troops landed in the northern city of Murmansk, while Japanese and British forces captured Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast, followed later by American troops. British forces also invaded Transcaucasia and Central Asia. The Volga, the Urals -— an old industrial centre of Russia — and a large part of Siberia were in the hands of Admiral Kolchak. German armies, breaking the Brest Treaty, occupied the Baltic provinces, Byelorussia, Ukraine and headed toward the Caucasus. In November 1918, an Anglo-French naval squadron entered the Black Sea capturing Odessa and Sevastopol and invading the Ukraine.
It seemed as if the small socialist island in the centre of Russia would be swept away by the waves of domestic and foreign counter-revolution.
The main blow at the revolution was to have been struck from the east. Admiral Kolchak’s armies advanced to the banks of the Volga, capturing Samara and Kazan and threatening Moscow and other vital centres of the country. Kolchak’s divisions were on the point of merging with their allies in the west.
The socialist government took urgent measures to create the Eastern Front of the Red Army and unite all the forces acting against the interventionists and White Guards. At Tsaritsin, in the southern part of the Volga, fighting was in progress. A Cossack avalanche led by General Krasnov was about to overrun this town. Its defenders created a belt of fortifications around it and valiantly repulsed the enemy attacks, taking up the counter-offensive afterward.
In the fall of 1918 and winter of 1919, the Red Army and partisan detachments drove back the Kolchak forces to the Urals and freed nearly all of Donbass, the most important coal basin in the south of the country, most of Ukraine, practically all the Baltic provinces, the Volga and other regions. The first onslaught of new Russia’s enemies was repulsed.
In the spring of 1919, the counter-revolution launched its second offensive. Again the main blow came from the east. Kolchak broke through the Red Army’s front, capturing a number of regions which he had lost a year earlier and approaching the Volga. His objectives were the same as before. “What is of chief importance is not to stop on the Volga,” he wrote to General Denikin, “but to strike out further at the heart of Bolshevism, Moscow. I hope to meet you in Saratov. .. The Poles will do what is expected of them; as for Yudenich, he is ready and will not
be slow to strike at Petrograd.”
The enemy was advancing on six fronts simultaneously and was at first successful. In July, Denikin, after a solemn church service, issued orders for an advance toward the capital of Russia — Moscow, to be carried out in the matter of a few marches. General Yudenich made two attempts, in May and in October, to break through to Petrograd. The whole world was convinced that the revolution was on the point of collapse.
But this time again the defenders of the revolution repelled the enemy onslaught. Kolchak’s armies were driven back to and beyond the Urals and suffered a final debacle in the forests of Siberia. The remnants of the the defeated Denikin’s forces took refuge in the Crimea, with Baron von Wrangel in command.
In the spring of 1920 came the last desperate attempt of the counter-revolution to capture the country. A Polish army, recruited and equipped by the Entente, invaded Ukraine and captured Kiev. But it was unable to resist the counter blow of the Red Army and rolled back. In October 1920, the two sides signed an armistice.
A few weeks later, the Red Army smashed its way into Crimea throwing Wrangel’s White Guard units into the Black Sea.
The strongest centres of the counter-revolution on the territory of Soviet Russia were wiped out.
Thus ended the armed referendum in which the destinies of the country were to be decided. Compelled to participate in it, the peoples of Russia, with the Communist Party at their head, made their choice in favour of socialism. And they upheld, in a bitter struggle, their right to build their life in accordance with this choice.
Britain and France concluded a secret agreement in Paris on December 22, 1917. It provided for aid to anti-Soviet forces in Russia, the Ukraine, the Caucasus, Siberia and Cossack districts in the Don area. The parties to the agreement emphasized that everything was to be done quietly in order to prevent, as far as possible, charges that they were preparing a war against the Bolsheviks. The next day, the British and the French governments concluded one more secret convention dividing the “spheres of inﬂuence” in the European part of Russia and designating the areas of future operations by allied forces.
Clouds were thus gathering over Russia where the socialist revolution had just triumphed.
The Soviet Republic, faced by the prodigious tasks of national and social development, was anxious to withdraw from the war as soon as possible. For this reason it accepted the onerous terms of the peace concluded with Kaiser Germany early in March 1918.
But, as future events showed, the forces hostile to the new Russia did everything to prevent her peaceful development.
How the War Was Hatched
The counter-revolutionary forces, concentrated chiefly in the borderlands, started a Civil War. By themselves these forces were not big and could have been easily defeated in a short time. But they were backed by foreign forces which invaded the country.
With the help of Germany and Austria, anti-Soviet units were organized and armed in the Don and Baltic areas. Violating the terms of the Brest treaty, German troops continued to advance and occupy a number of Russia’s southern and western regions. British, French and American troops landed in the north, and the Far East was invaded by Japanese and later by British and US forces. All this happened in the first half of 1918.
The invaders naturally encouraged all the enemies of the Soviet Republic in the country, and the ﬂames of Civil War leaped ever higher.
When they sent their troops to Soviet Russia the governments of the Entente countries and the United States declared that they were abiding by their agreements with Russia’s former governments and wanted to help her people repulse German aggression. Actually, this was merely a pretext, because these governments were ousted by the will of the overwhelming majority of the people and the young Soviet Republic did not ask the allies for any help. Moreover, it vigourously protested against the intervention of foreign troops in its domestic affairs. The allies also explained their interventionist actions on the grounds that the Soviet Republic, having concluded peace with Germany, supposedly betrayed the allied cause and enabled the enemy to shift its armies from the Eastern to the Western Front; therefore, they argued, the allies were compelled to take measures necessary to restore the Eastern Front against Germany.
But this, too, was merely a pretext, inasmuch as the allied troops sent to Russia did not in any way fight the Germans.
In reality, however, as early as the end of 1917, long before the signing of the Brest treaty, a conference of the Supreme Council of the Allied governments held in Paris decided to organize armed intervention against Soviet Russia. This alone proves that the withdrawal of the Soviet Republic from the war was not the main reason for the intervention. There is one more fact refuting the arguments of the Western powers: World War ended in November 1918 in Germany’s defeat. Yet it was from that moment that the scale of allied intervention in Russia steeply increased.
The crux of the matter was different. The ruling circles of Britain, France and other countries simply did not want to reconcile themselves to the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government in Russia, to the birth of a socialist state. They were aware of the revolutionizing inﬂuence the Soviet Republic would exert on other peoples. Colonel Edward House, President Wilson's advisor wrote in his diary on March 26 1919 that they were sitting on a powder keg and that on day a spark may blow it up. Hence the decision which was formulated with utmost frankness by Winston Churchill, Britain’s Secretary for War at the time, to strangle the Bolshevist infant in its cradle.
Having taken the road of intervention the Western ruling circles sent to Russia their army units and also armaments, war supplies and money for the internal counter-revolutionary armies. The Western powers sought to establish in Russia a government that would be their loyal vassal. Jean Pichon, a member of the French Military Mission, wrote to his government from Siberia in April 1918:
“It seems to me rather easy, given certain political adroitness and coordination among the Allies, to achieve unity of Russian parties and groupings which are now devouring each other. Moreover, since a government can exist only as long as we recognize and support it. . . Power and money are on our side: these are the best arguments with the help of which everything can be attained..."
The Soviet government has repeatedly proposed to the governments of the Western powers to stop the intervention and their support of the counter-revolutionaries. It utilized every occasion to declare its readiness to reach agreement and make concessions, its readiness to co-operate economically. At the height of intervention Lenin said: “We resolutely favour economic understanding with America, with all countries, but especially with America.” In February 1920, he told an American newspaper correspondent: “Let the American capitalists not molest us. We shall not molest them.” The correspondent asked whether Russia was ready to enter into business relations with America. “Of course, it is ready, just as with all countries,” Lenin replied.
In a Ring of Fronts
It is impossible ‘here to describe many of the major events of this gravest, one might say, tragic period for the peoples of the Soviet land. Intervention merged with Civil War. Frequently, fierce battles at the front were combined with no less cruel clashes in the rear. An armed struggle with the participation of tens of millions of people was under way on the vast territory from the Niemen to the Paciﬁc, from the Arctic Circle to the Black Sea.
Intervention and Civil War assumed a wide scale in the spring of 1918. The Czechoslovak corps which was travelling from European Russia via Siberia to the Far East started a rebellion on May 25. That corps was formed in 1917 from 60,000 Czechs and Slovaks who surrendered to the Russians in the course of the world war. The Soviet government gave the corps the opportunity to travel to Vladivostok in order to go from there by sea to France. It was this corps that was first of all utilized by the leaders of foreign intervention for armed struggle against the Soviet Republic. According to one of the many documents of those days, Joseph Noulens, the French Ambassador to Russia, on May 18, 1918, informed the French military representative at the Czechoslovak corps: “The allies decided to start intervention at the end of June and regard the Czech army, together with the French mission (attached to it), as the
vanguard of the Allied army . . .”
The Red Army was only being formed at that time. It was numerically small, poorly armed and had no experience. Asa result, the Czechoslovak units at first scored considerable successes. In the summer of 1918, the Urals, Siberia and the Trans-Volga area were under their control. Central Asia was also cut off from the central regions of Russia. Puppet governments were set
up on the territories severed from the Soviet Republic.
By that time the Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Baltic area had been occupied by the German invaders in violation of the Brest treaty. General Peter Krasnov was in control of Cossack districts on the Don. The Soviet Republic was thus gripped in a fiery ring of fronts. It was cut off from the sources of food, raw material and fuel. Millions of people were starving. On May 9, 1918, Lenin sent the following telegram to local governmental bodies: “The situation in Petrograd is catastrophic to the extreme. No bread. The last stocks of potato flour and rusks are issued to the population. The red capital is on the brink of perishing from starvation.” The Soviet government was forced to issue a Decree on “food dictatorship”. It conﬁrmed the immutability of the grain monopoly and demanded implacable struggle against grain profiteering and the strictest account and even allocation of all grain resources. Persons concealing grain surpluses were to be tried by the revolutionary tribunals. Workers’ food detachments were confiscating hidden stocks of grain from rich farmers.
The enemies of the Soviet state were organizing rebellions and committing acts of terror. In Moscow, Bruce Lockhart, a British diplomat, was organizing an anti—Soviet conspiracy. In Petrograd, the British naval attaché Cromie took part in the activity of counter-revolutionary groups. Prominent leaders of the Soviet state Moisei Volodarsky and Moisei Uritsky were killed. In Moscow, Lenin was gravely wounded on August 30, 1918.
But the Soviet Republic held out against all odds. In the autumn, the situation at the front turned. The Red Army liberated the Volga area and was successfully advancing on the Urals. In the south, it repulsed the offensives of Krasnov’s Cossack regiments.
A revolution occurred in Germany on November 8, 1918, and the Soviet government at once annulled the unjust Brest treaty. The Red Army, together with workers and peasants, rose up against the occupation forces, liberated the Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Baltic area. But the
disintegration of the German bloc also had adverse consequences for the Soviet Republic. After Germany’s surrender, the Entente countries were able to throw much bigger forces into
action against the Soviet state.
On November 12, 1918, the day after signing the armistice with Germany, the
General Staff of the Supreme Command of the allied armies elaborated a plan for “destroying Bolshevism.” It called for extending hostilities started in the north into the direction of Petrograd and into other districts, to intervene the Ukraine via Rumania and the Black Sea. Up to 24 divisions were to be utilized for these purposes.
On November 13, when popular celebrations of peace continued in the capitals, Britain and France reafﬁrmed the secret convention on the division of spheres of inﬂuence in Russia concluded in December l9l7.
On November 14, Britain’s War Cabinet decided: 1) to provide arms and military supplies to General Anton Denikin who was organizing a White Guard army in the South; 2) to send additional ofﬁcers and military equipment to Siberia; to recognize de facto the Siberian government of Admiral Alexander Kolchak. On the night of November 15, an Anglo-French squadron entered the Black Sea.
Landing forces of the interventionists seized Odessa and Sevastopol and invaded the Ukraine. At the end of November, a British squadron entered Tallinn, delivering arms
and munitions to the White Guards. Reinforcements were sent to the north, to the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Far East. Altogether more than 250,000 foreign troops invaded Soviet Russia.
Armies of Russian White Guards were set up and equipped with the help of the
Western powers. They paid special attention to helping Admiral Kolchak who proclaimed himself the “supreme ruler of Russia” in the Siberian town of Omsk. Altogether during 1919, United States, Britain, France and Japan supplied him with 700,000 riﬂes, 3,650 machine guns, many heavier guns and hundreds of millions of rounds of ammunition.
This situation was sarcastically derided in a popular ditty:
“English is the tunic,
French are the boots,
The Buckle, Japanese —
Omsk ruler parades in these.”
The military forces of the Whites were also concentrated in the north and in the Baltic area. In the spring of 1918, the Red Army was faced with interventionists and internal counter-revolutionary forces exceeding one million men.
Russia was again gripped by a ring of enemies. The High Command of the allied armies decided to pursue its intervention by concerted blows of all the anti-Soviet forces and to undertake a general offensive, started from all the frontiers of Russia concentrically toward the very heart of the Soviet state, toward Moscow.
Battles were fought on six fronts 8,000 kilometres long. The main blow was struck from the east. In the spring of 1918, Kolchak’s army of 300,000 men drew near to the Volga and was threatening Moscow. All the forces of the Soviet Republic were hurled to the Eastern Front: here the fate of the revolution hung in the balance. By decision of Party committees thousands of thousands of Communists went to the army. On receiving reinforcements, the Red Army mounted an offensive. It was commanded by Mikhail Frunze, one of the most experienced Bolshevik army leaders who had trained militant workers’ detachments as early as 1905 during the first Russian Revolution. The battles lasted for two months. Kolchak’s troops were unable to withstand the furious attacks of the Red Army. By the autumn of 1919, Soviet troops had liberated the Urals and, maintaining the offensive, reached the Siberian plain.
Petrograd was also facing danger. The army of General Nikolai Yudenich broke through to its gates twice, in May and October. It seemed that the city was about to be captured. Here is a characteristic episode. One day, in the heat of battle an adjutant offered his binoculars to Yudenich, and asked: “Wouldn’t you like to look, Petrograd can be seen ?” The general shook his head: “Why? Tomorrow we’ll be there ourselves.” But the Red Army had defeated these troops forcing them to retreat to Estonia.
In the summer and autumn of 1919, the main hostilities shifted to the south. Another shock force, the army of General Anton Denikin, was hurled into action against the Bolsheviks. According to Winston Churchill, Denikin received from the Entente arms and supplies for 250,000 men. Denikin’s offensives were supported not only by the Entente countries, but also by armies of Poland, Finland and other states, bordering on Soviet Russia. This drive came to be known as the campaign of 14 states against the Soviet land.
Denikin’s forces were frenziedly trying to reach Moscow. They reached Tula where Russia’s oldest ordnance works are located. They were 180 kilometres from the capital. A‘ few big owners of mines in the Donets fields even announced a prize of a million roubles to the regiment in Denikin’s army which would first break into Moscow. September and October 1919 were the gravest months in the years of foreign military intervention and Civil War.
The leadership of the Bolshevik Party then took a number of important measures to strengthen the Southern Front. On June 9, the newspapers published a letter. “All Out for the Fight against Denikin!” written by Lenin. Within two months, more than 25,000 Communists went into the army. Altogether there were 120,000 Communists in the Red Army in October 1919. In the autumn of 1919, more than 200,000 people joined the Bolshevik Party in the country’s main industrial cities and in the army. On the call of the Komsomol 10,000 of its members took up arms. The entire membership of many Komsomol organizations went to
Lenin himself controlled the transfer of troops, armaments and munitions to the Southern Front. “The directive of the Central Committee is: denude all fronts in favour of the Southern,” he stressed in one of his telegrams. The most battle—seasoned divisions and commanders were sent against Denikin’s army.
In the second half of October, the Red Army mounted an offensive on a 300-km.
sector of the Southern Front from Oryol to Voronezh. Here the Soviet troops were commanded by Alexander Yegorov, a former lieutenant-colonel of the tsarist army. A great battle which lasted for 30 days was fought here.
A mounted army commanded by Semyon Budyonny. a former Cossack noncom in the World War was the strike force of the advancing Red Army troops. Such large cavalry formations were without precedent in war. Thousands of mounted men by sudden blows dissected the enemy fronts and, like a whirlwind, swept behind the enemy lines. Insurgent peasants and workers struck blows at the retreating White forces and guerillas cleared entire districts. At the end of 1919 Denikin’s army was routed.
On January 16, 1920, the Supreme Council of the Allied governments officially announced that the Supreme Council had decided it would “permit the exchange of goods on the basis of reciprocity between the Russian people and the allied and neutral countries.” 7) The lifting of the blockade to some extent eased the struggle against economic chaos and starvation.
The Soviet Republic, however, did not enjoy the peaceful respite for long. It lasted only three to four months. In the spring of 1920, the Soviet people had to fight again. This time the main force of the intervention was the army of Poland, 740,000 strong, equipped by the Entente powers. Simultaneously General Wrangel’s army of 150,000 men in the Crimea also struck.
But this time, too, the people emerged victorious — both armies were defeated.
The Civil War and intervention were the gravest trial for the young Soviet Republic.
For three years it had to repulse one attack after another mounted by a powerful and well-organized enemy. Many western politicians repeatedly stated that the defeat of the Bolsheviks was a matter of days. These hopes were frankly voiced by Robert Wilton, correspondent of the London Times who in his book “Russia’s Agony,” published in 1918, wrote that economically the continued existence of the Soviet regime was impossible, while politically it was absurd. (8)
But these forecasts did not come true. Each time a “miracle” happened as far as western observers were concerned: lacerated and wounded, the Soviet Republic mustered the strength not only to hold out but also to defeat its enemies.
In the course of the Civil War and intervention, the economy of Russia, weak as it was in the past, was in a catastrophic position. Help from the outside was out of the question: the country was blockaded. To provide the Red Army with weapons and the population with a minimum of food, the Soviet government pursued an economic policy which came to be named “war communism.” The motto of the Soviet Republic was: “Everything for war! Everything for victory!” All available manpower and material resources were mobilized. The main stocks of food were in the hands of rich farmers who were hostile to the Soviet state. To save the urban population and the peasants from death by starvation, the government obligated the farmers to sell all surplus grain to the state at fixed prices. Private grain trade was prohibited. Food was rationed.
After the October Revolution, big factories and banks were nationalized. They became the property of the entire people, the socialist sector of the economy. In principle, medium and especially small enterprises were not subject to immediate nationalization. But the war conditions changed everything. Many big factories could not be operated and to ensure the Red Army with weapons and supplies, it was necessary to utilize small and medium enterprises. But the owners refused to consider the needs of war, and the state had no resources to furnish material incentives to them. That is why the government had to nationalize medium and many small enterprises. Universal labor conscription was also instituted.
Depreciation of currency, derangement of money circulation and the shortage of consumer goods — all this restricted trade and made it necessary to organize distribution without money. In an attempt to ease the position of the working people, the government introduced in the cities the free supply of food and clothing for children and free meals.
Outwardly these and similar measures resembled “communist principles.” Hence the name “War Communism.” This policy, essential in the conditions of war and extreme economic chaos, was not in line with the economic tasks of the socialist state. No sooner had the war ended than the policy of “war communism” was abolished.
Devotion to the Revolution
Why was the Soviet Republic able to hold out and defeat the combined forces of internal counter-revolution and external intervention? Whence did it muster the necessary forces? Was this an historical accident?
When enemy strategists used figures to demonstrate the inevitable defeat of Soviet Russia, they left out of consideration the most decisive factor, namely, the morale of the Red Army.
The war was a test of the new system of the people’s determination to uphold the gains of the revolution. It demonstrated that the workers and peasants were ready to make any sacrifices to preserve the Soviet Republic. In the face of gravest trials, they did not lose faith in the triumph of their cause. Such mass heroism was without parallel in history.
In the first months after the October Revolution, the Red Army was formed on voluntary lines. But in view of the intervention and civil war, universal military conscription had to be introduced and a regular army set up. It was built up under enemy fire. At first there was a shortage of experienced commanders, but in the course of the battles talented army leaders came forth from the midst of the people. When the Czechoslovak rebellion began, the workers of the Volga area organized armed detachments. They were headed by Vasily Chapayev, a World War I soldier. The units he led turned swiftly into an ominous force and Chapayev himself developed into a splendid division commander.
Twenty-four-year—old Nikolai Shchors, the son of a locomotive engineer, a doctor’s assistant by education, became an experienced commander. He formed a regiment from separate insurgent detachments in the Ukraine. It later grew into a division and under his command scored big victories.
Many ofﬁcers of the old Russian army, too, headed the Soviet forces. Events convinced them that the new government and its army were defending the interests of the people and the country’s independence. Some of these ofﬁcers and generals became leaders of the republic’s armed forces. Former colonels‘ Yoakim Vatsetis and Sergei Kamenev held the post of supreme commander, generals Feodor Kostyakov and Pavel Lebedev headed the general staff of the armies in the field. Rear Admiral Vasily Altﬁater was commander of the republic’s naval forces.
In 1919, the Red Army had three million men and. in I920, five million. Despite the economic breakdown and starvation. the republic supplied its army with everything it it needed. In the rear the workers labored with the same heroism as the men fought at the front.
Young people were in the front ranks of the revolution’s defenders. “Closed, all left for the front” — such signs could be seen on the ofﬁces of many youth organizations. The well-known writer Arkady Gaidar, a Civil War veteran who at the age of 16 commanded a regiment, wrote: “When I’m asked how could it happen that I was commander at so young an age, I reply: it is not my biography that was unusual, but the time that was unusual.”
The unity of the workers and peasants of all nationalities in the struggle against the
enemy was truly monolithic. This was particularly important for such a multinational country as Russia. The October Revolution liberated all the peoples of the former tsarist empire from political and national oppression and made them equal. When the hour of trial struck, they all rose to a man to defend Soviet power.
“Hands Off Soviet Russia!"
The ship Jolly George with a load of weapons for the Polish army which then attacked Soviet Russia was to sail from London in May 1920. But the British dockers refused to load the ship. This is one of the many examples of the way the world working class supported the Russian Revolution.
[See more about the Jolly George incident at : Harry Pollitt and the SS Jolly George ed.]
Intervention in the Soviet Republic aroused a storm of indignation among workers and progressives in Europe and America. “Hands off Soviet Russia!” — this demand resounded at meetings in many countries.
“A great crime against the people is being committed, a crime which can produce nothing good for anyone. We refuse to participate in this crime, to participate in it even by our silence. We protest with all our hearts and souls against this action unworthy of the human mind in general, and the traditions of our country in particular.” This is how intervention of Soviet Russia was condemned in an appeal signed by 70 cultural figures of France among whom were Anatole France, Jean Richard Block, Charles Wildrack and Henri Barbusse.
American journalists John Reed and Albert Rhys Williams did much to spread the truth about the Soviet Republic in the United States. Colonel Raymond Robbins, who was in Russia with a Red Cross mission early in 1918, addressed meetings which called for peace.
A meeting of 10,000 people was held in New York’s Madison Square Garden on May 25, 1919 under the slogan of justice for Russia. Its participants sent a message of greeting to the peoples of Soviet Russia and called for removal of the blockade and the evacuation of all foreign troops from Russia.
The American workers set up committees to register volunteers who wanted to go to Russia. Money and articles for the Red Army were collected. In Seattle, a group of 500 was ready to go to Russia but the United States did not allow them to leave” In the autumn of 1919, Seattle dockers refused to load weapons for Kolchak’s army.
Baltimore workers acted the same way.
The Friends of Soviet Russia Society, organized at that time in the United States, addressed a petition to Congress. By the end of 1919 about one million Americans had signed that petition calling for an end to the anti-Soviet intervention and blockade.
Voices condemning hostilities against the new Russia also resounded in ruling circles of the Western countries. Here is what Senator Borah stated in the US. Senate on September 5, 1919:
“Mr. President, we are not at war with Russia; Congress has not declared war against the Russian government or the Russian people. The people of the United States do not desire to be at war with Russia. If the question were submitted to the people of this country, there would be practically unanimous vote against war with Russia or any part, faction or division of the Russian people. Yet, while we are not at war with Russia, while Congress has not declared
war, we are carrying on a war with the Russian people... It is, to speak frankly and plainly, a plain usurpation of power to maintain troops in Russia at this time. There is neither legal nor moral justification for sacrificing these lives. It is in violation of the plain principles of free government.”
Senators Hiram Johnson, Robert La Follette, William Mason and others also opposed intervention.
Vladimir Lenin highly assessed the struggle against intervention which developed in Europe and America. He considered it one of the reasons for the victory of the Soviet Republic.
In conclusion, let us cite a few figures.
We do not know the total sum spent by the Western powers on intervention in Russia. According to data, cited by Winston Churchill who was then the Secretary for War, Britain spent 100 million and France 40 million pounds sterling.
About eight million people were killed or maimed in the war against the interventionists and the White Guards. Several million perished at the front or died from starvation and epidemics. About 112,000 were tortured to death or killed in prisons and concentration camps of the White Guards and interventionists. Three million people were left homeless. The material damage was estimated at 50,000 million gold roubles. At the end of the war the country’s
economy was thrown back many years. Industry produced only 20 per cent of the prewar output, and agriculture, less than 50 per cent.
At the end of 1920, the rumble of guns died down and the war ended in victory. The Soviet people gained the opportunity to resume their peaceful endeavours. In December 1920, 2,500 delegates from all parts of the country assembled in the Bolshoi Theatre for the 8th All-Russia Congress of Soviets. Shortly afterwards the entire country read the Congress Appeal.
“Working people of Russia, by these three years of greatest privation and sacrifice you won the right to engage in peaceful labor. Let us dedicate all our energies to this labor!”