Wars of Intervention – explanation

Immediately after the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks kept to their promise of peace by opening negotiations at Brest-Litovsk with Germany to secure Russian withdrawal from WW1. This was a blow for the remaining Entente powers who were reliant on Germany having to fight on two fronts – west and east. With Russia now out of the war, the Allies drew up plans to intervene militarily in Russia. As early as December 23rd 1917, the Allied Supreme War Council suggested that anti-Bolshevik troops, and any other forces who wanted to continue the fight against Germany in Russia, should be fully supported. The British War Cabinet decided to provide the White General Kaledin, and other successive white forces with financial support. For their own reasons the Germans agreed with an anti-Russian interventionist policy and participated fully until November 1918; the end of WW1.

Thus, surprisingly, during the first six months of the intervention, the two opposing sides although still locked in conflict in WW1, were nonetheless united in their desire to crush Bolshevism. The Germans, having gained vast swathes of Russian territory (including the Baltic States and Ukraine) as a result of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, were anxious to capitalise on their territorial advantages by exploiting Russian weakness.

However, this alarmed the Allies, who gained support from like-minded anti-Bolshevik countries. By the spring of 1918, Britain, France, the United States, Japan and ten other nations were actively sending troops into Russia to intervene in support of the White Army. Britain, assisted by American troops, occupied Murmansk and Archangel in the North and together proceeded southward towards the Caucasus regions where White Armies had a stronghold. Japanese forces occupied Vladivostok and, aided by the Czech Legion, concentrating their attention on large parts of the Far East and Siberia. Allied pressure intensified after the armistice ending WW1. The French fleet entered the Black Sea and French troops landed at Odessa and the Crimea.

Of equal importance to the deployment of troops was capitalist allies’ mass supply of arms, equipment and cash to the Whites. Thousands of tons of supplies and equipment were sent to the White Army, to General Denikin in the south and to Kolchak in the East, originating mainly from Britain.

The aim of these interventionist powers in assisting the Whites was three-fold. Initially, it was predicated on the assumption that ousting the Bolsheviks would mean that Russia would re-enter WW1 and thus ensure that, once again, German troops would be forced to fight on two fronts. Secondly, and more importantly, after WW1 ended the interventionist capitalist countries were motived by the desire to prevent the spread of communist ideology and practice, which was becoming popular and influential within sections of the labour movement in their own countries. Finally, those capitalist countries which had invested heavily in the industrialisation of Russia during the Tsarist years were anxious to recoup their massive financial speculation.

Ultimately it became clear to the interventionist powers that their efforts were not able to overthrow Soviet Russia. Not being prepared to intervene on a much larger scale, the French withdrew their soldiers in April 1919. Towards the end of 1919, the Red Army pushed the Whites out of many areas and had them on the retreat. By 1920, the last British and American troops had left Russia, unsuccessful in their task of bringing the White Army to victory. Japanese occupation in the Far East remained for a further two years, as they had gained disputed land which they laid claim to for many years afterwards.