White Russian Movement

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The White Russian Movement, whose military arm is known as the White Army (Белая Армия) or White Guard (Белая Гвардия, белогвардейцы) and whose members are known as Whites (Белые, or the derogatory Беляки) or White Russians (a term that has other meanings) comprised some of the Russian forces, both political and military, which opposed the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution and fought against the Red Army during the Russian Civil War from 1918 to 1921.

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Structure and ideology

The designation "White" has several interpretations. First, it stood in contradistinction to the "Reds", the revolutionary Red Army who supported the Soviets and Communism. Second, the word "white" had monarchist associations: historically the first monarch of unified Russia, Ivan III, was styled "Albus Rex", or "white king". In addition, many of the peacetime regimental army tunics were white.

Strictly speaking, no monolithic "White Army" existed; lacking central coordination, the White forces were more a loose confederation of counter-revolutionary forces. Besides considering themselves anti-Bolshevik Russian patriots, most White Army officers did not have a clearly articulated ideological vision. Among White Army leaders, neither General Kornilov nor General Denikin were monarchistsreference required. On the other hand, General Wrangel did have monarchist sympathies, but, as he made it clear, was willing to serve under a non-Bolshevik democratically elected Russian governmentreference required. The White Army also drew support from other political movements, including democrats, social revolutionaries, and others who opposed the October Revolution; at other times and in other places, the same groups supported the Red Army instead.

The leaders of the White Army as a whole generally believed in the restoration of a united Russia (being opposed to separatists who wanted to create nation-states in the place of the old Russian Empire). The rank-and-file troops included very active opponents of the Bolsheviks (many Cossacks, for example), and spanned a variety of volunteers and conscripts, from nobles to peasants.

Some leaders of the White movement, particularly General Wrangel, formulated political concepts based on Russian traditionalism that were taken up and developed in emigre circles after the end of the Civil War by Russian thinkers such as Ivan Ilyin, who had many philosophical similarities with the Slavophiles. This became known as the "White Idea". Not all White Army veterans were sympathetic to it, although virtually all organized veterans were (i.e., the Russian All-Military Union).

Monarchist tendencies reached a peak amidst the veterans of the White movement, while republicanism was rarer. The ultra-liberal policies of Alexander Kerensky and his socialist-democratic oriented Russian Provisional Government were seen as largely responsible for preparing the country for the October Revolution. In August of 1922, two months before its defeat, the far eastern White Army of General Mikhail Diterikhs went as far as to convene the Zemskiy Sobor of Preamursk, and elect (without his participation) Grand Duke Nikolai Nikoaievich Romanov as Tsar of all Russia.

There were also independent groups such as the so-called Green Army as well as the Black Army of Nestor Makhno, who declared themselves against both the Reds and Whites, although occasionally they sought alliances with one side or the other.

At times the Western Allies, the Central Powers, and other foreign forces provided assistance to several White Army units. This caused the Soviets to accuse the White Army of representing the interests of foreign powers.

Theaters of Operation

The Russian Civil War between Whites and Reds raged from November of 1917 until 1921, with isolated pockets of resistance continuing in the Far East until 1923. The White Army, with the occasional aid of Allied (and sometimes, Central powers) forces from outside Russia (Japanese, British, Canadian, French, American, German, Australian (including two who received the Victoria Cross for their actions against the Red Army), Greek, Czechs) controlled some areas (especially in Siberia, Ukraine and the Crimea) for periods of time and put considerable bodies of troops into the field. But they failed to unite or to co-operate effectively amongst themselves, and the Bolshevik Red Army eventually gained the upper hand.

The major theaters of the White armies can be grouped as follows:

  • The Southern front: Started on November 15 1917 by General Mikhail Alekseev and commanded by General Lavr Kornilov, later headed by General Denikin and named the "Armed Forces of the South of Russia". This front had the most massive scale operations and overall posed the most serious threat to the Bolsheviks. In the beginning, it based itself entirely on volunteer support, a significant amount of it coming from the cossacks who were amidst the first to protest against Bolshevik rule. In 1919, after the Denikin offense on Moscow collapsed, the army was forced into a massive retreat. General Wrangel reorganized the army in Crimea, formed a provisional government (recognized by France), and began a new advance. It soon failed.
  • The Eastern (Siberian) front: Started in the spring of 1918 as an underground movement amidst army officers and right leaning socialist forces. The front began a major offensive in collaboration with the Czechoslovak Legions who were stuck in Siberia (local Bolshevik governments barred them from leaving Soviet Russia). Admiral Kolchak headed the resistance and a provisional Russian government. The army made significant advances in 1919, but was pushed back to the far east where it continued to resist up to October of 1922.

Post-Civil War

Main article: White Emigre

Considerable numbers of anti-Soviet Russians clustered in Belgrade, Berlin, Paris, Harbin, Istanbul, and Shanghai, setting up military and cultural networks, which lasted through World War II (for example, the Russian community in Harbin and Russian community in Shanghai). Thereafter White Russian activity found a new principal home in the United States.

In the 1920's and 30's, several White organizations were formed outside Russia with the intention of overthrowing the Soviet government through guerrilla warfare. These included the Russian All-Military Union, the Brotherhood of Russian Truth, and the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists.

Russian cadet corps were founded in several countries in order to prepare the next generation for the "spring campaign" (a term coined by white emigres meaning a hoped-for renewal of their campaign against the Bolsheviks). A significant number of these cadets volunteered for service in the Russian Corps during World War II, when many white Russians desired to participate in the Russian Liberation Movement.

Soviet historiography has tended to paint the Civil War as primarily a war of foreign intervention. White generals were stereotyped as monarchists who were bankrolled by foreign governments and business tycoons, wealthy Russian land owners, and the Russian Orthodox Church. The White army was portrayed as an army formed of people from the upper classes (the nobility) as well as forced peasant conscripts.

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