After the overthrow of the Provisional Government on 7th November, 1917, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets met and handed over power to the Soviet Council of People's Commissars. Vladimir Lenin was elected chairman and other appointments included leading Bolsheviks such as Leon Trotsky (Foreign Affairs) Alexei Rykov (Internal Affairs), Anatoli Lunacharsky (Education) and Joseph Stalin (Nationalities).
Alexander Kerensky, who had managed to escape arrest, assembled loyal troops from the Northern Front. Led by General Krasnov, the Cossacks were defeated by Bolshevik forces at Pulkova. By December, 1917, central Russia and Siberia was under the control of Lenin's government.
General Lavr Kornilov now organized a Volunteer Army and in January 1918 his forces numbered 3,000 men. Over the next few months other groups who opposed the Bolshevik government joined the struggle. Eventually these soldiers became known as the Whites.
Those that joined the White Army included the Cadets, who wished to continue the war against the Central Powers. Some Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries that were opposed to the dictatorial powers of the new regime also joined the resistance. Others who joined included landowners who had lost their estates, factory owners who had their property nationalized, devout members of the Russian Orthodox Church who objected to the government's atheism and royalists who wanted to restore the monarchy.
Alexander Kolchak joined the rebellion and agreed to become a minister in the Provisional All-Russian Government based in Omsk. In November 1918, ministers who were members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party were arrested and Kolchak was named Supreme Ruler with dictatorial powers. His first action was to promote himself to Admiral.
The Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) now changed sides and joined forces with the Red Army. Kolchak reacted by bring in new laws which established capital punishment for attempting to overthrow the authorities. He also announced that “insults written, printed, and oral, are punishable by imprisonment". Other measures imposed by Kolchak included the suppression of trade unions, disbanding of soviets, and resturned factories and land to their previous owners. Kolchak was accused of committing war crimes and one report claimed that he had 25,000 people killed in Ekaterinburg. His behaviour resulted in the Czech Legion leaving the White Army.
The White Army initially had success in the Ukraine where the Bolsheviks were unpopular. The main resistance came from Nestor Makhno, the leader of an Anarchist army in the area. Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, led the Red Army and gradually pro-Bolsheviks took control of the Ukraine. By February, 1918, the Whites held no major areas in Russia.
The main threat to the Bolsheviks was the German Army that was advancing towards Petrograd. On 3rd March, 1918, Vladimir Lenin ordered his team of negotiators to sign the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. This resulted in the Russians having to surrendering the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Caucasus and Poland.
This decision increased the hostility inside Russia towards the Bolsheviks. In May, 1918, the Czechoslovak Corps revolted after being badly treated by local Red Guards. Over the next four months the Czech Legion took a vast area of land east of the Volga. The White Army also won battles at Simbirsk and Kazan.
Vladimir Lenin appointed Leon Trotsky as commissar of war and was sent to rally the Red Army in the Volga. Trotsky proved to be an outstanding military commander and Kazan and Simbirsk were recaptured in September, 1918. The following month he took Samara but the White Army did make progress in the south when General Anton Denikin took control of the Kuban region and General Peter Wrangel began to advance up the Volga.
The main threat to the Bolshevik government came from General Nikolai Yudenich. In October, 1918, he captured Gatchina, only 50 kilometres from Petrograd. Leon Trotsky arrived to direct the defence of the capital. Red Guard units were established amongst industrial workers and the rail network was used to bring troops from Moscow. Outnumbered, Yudenich ordered his men to retreat and headed for Estonia. To help the White Army, troops from Britain, France, Japan and the United States were sent into Russia. By December, 1918, there were 200,000 foreign soldiers supporting the anti-Bolshevik forces.
In March, 1919, Admiral Alexander Kolchak captured Ufa and was posing a threat to Kazan and Samara. However, his acts of repression had resulted in the formation of Western Siberian Peasants' Red Army. The Red Army, led by Nestor Makhno and Mikhail Frunze, also made advances and entered Omsk in November, 1919. Kolchak fled eastwards and was promised safe passage by the Czechoslovaks to the British military mission in Irkutsk. However, he was handed over to the Socialist Revolutionaries. He appeared before a five man commission between 21st January and 6th February. At the end of the hearing he was sentenced to death.
The Red Army continued to grow and now had over 500,000 soldiers in its ranks. This included over 40,000 officers who had served under Nicholas II. This was an unpopular decision with many Bolsheviks who feared that given the opportunity, they would betray their own troops. Trotsky tried to overcome this problem by imposing a strict system of punishment for those who were judged to be disloyal.
General Mikhail Frunze went on to clear Turkestan of all anti-Bolshevik forces. General Anton Denikin and his army withdrew to the Crimea. He made a brief stand at Rostov before again retreating to Novorossiysk on the Black Sea. Faced by troops led by Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Denikin was forced to leave Russia in April, 1920.
General Peter Wrangel now took control of the White Army in the Crimea but he was unable to make much impression against General Mikhail Frunze and the Red Army and in November the remaining members of his army left Russia.
About 800,000 soldiers were killed during the three year Civil War. It has estimated that another 8 million died as from starvation and disease as result of the war.