The Civil War became the terrible result of the Russian Revolution
By Karina Enfenjyan, Executive Editor
The October Revolution of 1917 and the fratricidal Civil War that followed it led to the collapse of the mighty Russian Empire, stopped its development, plunged the country into utter chaos and unthinkable ideological confrontation, brought terrible misfortunes and suffering to its people…
Ivan Bunin wrote in his Cursed Days: “Our children and grandchildren will not be able even to imagine Russia in which we once lived (that is, what was it like yesterday) and which we ourselves did not value or understand – all its might, complexity, richness, and happiness. <…> There was once a nation that reached the number of 160 million and that owned one-sixth of the earth’s surface, but precisely which sixth did they own? A truly legendary and rich land that blossomed with equally legendary swiftness!”
Any revolution means destruction and catastrophe. On the eve of the World War I, the Russian Empire was at the peak of its economic expansion and was developing at an incredibly high pace, achieving success in many areas. In 1913, the country ranked third in the world in terms of economy size and industrial output. And there was every reason to believe that with peaceful and stable development within 20–30 years, Russia would come out on top in Europe and compete with the United States for the largest national economy in the world.
When the Bolsheviks came to power, not only the economic, but also the cultural and spiritual development of the great country was abruptly interrupted.
Literature, painting, architecture, ballet, theatre – everything was on the rise in the beginning of the 20th century. It was the Silver Age of Russian poetry.
The Silver Age… This phrase itself is connected in our minds with something sublime, beautiful and elegant. Voloshin, Akhmatova, Balmont, Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam, Gumilyov, Severyanin, Merezhkovsky, Khlebnikov, Blok, Yesenin… What a constellation of brilliant poets! And what trials of fate. Keenly feeling the deep tragedy of those terrible days, they could not but reflect in their poems the pain and suffering of their Motherland, whose sons were drawn into the fratricidal war. As true patriots, they deeply experienced the split of Russian society into the Reds and the Whites.
White was – became red:
Was red – became white:
These lines belong to Marina Tsvetaeva. Sympathising with the White Movement, she saw the Civil War as only pain, suffering and irreparable losses for both sides.
Russia was losing its poets: some of them left their homeland, carrying it with them in their hearts and dreaming of returning one day; others stayed and drained the cup of sorrow; many fell into the maelstrom of repression and died, becoming the poet martyrs of the 20th century. The Silver Age of Russian poetry was short and unique. Its poets left us an invaluable legacy – their poems.
Ballet and performance arts reached unprecedented heights before the revolution. It must be said that the ballet, which enjoyed special patronage from the Russian aristocracy, could well have been declared an old-fashioned art by the Bolsheviks and would have ceased to exist in Russia, since the most radical representatives of the new regime called for the abolition of any pre-revolutionary traditions. But, fortunately, the ballet was saved.
Of course, with the outbreak of the World War I, the problems that undoubtedly existed in tsarist Russia – above all, social inequality and the difficult working conditions of workers and peasants – became even more aggravated. And in that sense, it seems that the February Revolution logically resulted from the growing tension throughout the country. However, it must be taken into account that it happened literally on the eve of the spring general offensive against Germany and Austria, which looked like a betrayal. “Treason, cowardice and deceit,” Nicholas II said then.
Perhaps, if the Bolsheviks had failed to overthrow the Provisional Government, Russia would have taken only the path of bourgeois transformations and would have stood on a par with the developed countries of Western Europe. Perhaps… But it did not happen. The reality turned out to be different – it was cruel and bloody. The Civil War became the terrible result of the Russian Revolution – it claimed the lives of more than 10 million people.
At times, attempts are made to lay the blame for the collapse of the Russian Empire solely on the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II, or on the liberals who overthrew him. There is also an opinion, that it was the rapid economic growth of Russia that became the main reason for the Western powers to support and even help to carry out the 1917 coup. Moreover, Russia’s victory in the war was beyond doubt.
The war and the abdication of the emperor weakened the country, which the Bolsheviks immediately took advantage of, starting subversive agitation work among the soldiers and peasants, promising them peace and lands. As a result, the front fell apart, the White movement was defeated, and on November 11, 1920, General Pyotr Wrangel gave the order to evacuate “all those who shared the way of the Cross with the army, the families of military personnel, civil officials, with their families, and individuals, who could be in danger if the enemy came” from the Crimea.
The decision taken by General Wrangel saved a huge number of people from inevitable death. People who remained in the Crimea, including those who did not serve in the White Army, suffered from the Red Terror.
The ships left the Crimea under the St. Andrew’s flag, taking away the cream of the Russian nation to foreign lands, which could not but affect the future of the country.
On March 3, 1918, Russia concluded the shameful Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, according to which it lost vast territories in the west. And for many years chaos reigned in the once great country.