International Intervention in Russia's Civil War: Policies, Experiences and Justifications

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International Intervention in Russia’s Civil War: Policies, Experiences, and Justifications Charlotte Alston “It was as if the war and the revolution had shaken the whole world and dropped samples of every nationality in Vladivostok.”1 Carl Ackerman, a young correspondent with the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia, was not alone in his surprise at the cosmopolitanism of Russia’s easternmost port, and at the variety of national missions and forces operating there.2 During spring and summer 1918 the British, French, Italian, Japanese, Canadian, and United States governments all dispatched fighting forces and support missions to Russia. Allied armies operated not only in Siberia but in Murmansk and Arkhangel´sk as well, while the British and French governments sent troops and supplies to anti-Bolshevik forces in South Russia. British forces also encountered the Bolsheviks in the southern Caucasus and Central Asia. Czechoslovak and Serbian units formed by prisoners of war in Russia became involved in fighting as they moved to the northern and eastern ports in the hope of transfer to the Western Front.3 This was a truly international intervention . While its advocates insisted that the intervention should be really “Allied in character,” the assortment of national forces involved by no means implied a coordinated sense of purpose. 1 Carl Ackerman, Trailing the Bolsheviki: Twelve Thousand Miles with the Allies in Siberia (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1919), 43. 2 For a French officer’s comparable impressions of Vladivostok in December 1918, see Charles Quenet, “L’Arrière sibérien,” Le Monde Slave 3, 8 (1926): 162–64. 3 On the Czechoslovak Legion, see John F. Bradley, The Czechoslovak Legion in Russia 1914–1920 (Boulder, CO and New York: Columbia University Press, 1991). On the Serbian forces, see Margot Lawrence, “The Serbian Divisions in Russia 1916–17,” Journal of Contemporary History 6, 4 (1971): 183–92. Russian International Relations in War and Revolution, 1914–22, Book 2: Revolution and Civil War. David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, Oleg Budnitskii, Michael Hughes, and David MacLaren McDonald, eds. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2021, 273–99. 10.52500/RWMB2616. Motive, objective, and purpose loom large in the vast and international literature on intervention in the Russian Civil War.4 While early Soviet histories acknowledged the chaotic nature of Allied decision making and the Western leaders’ desire to reconstruct an eastern front, from the 1930s these interpretations were dismissed in favor of an emphasis on their determination to crush the Soviet state. By the late 1940s and early 1950s the United States government was cast as the driving force behind the intervention.5 The classic Western studies of Allied policy in Russia on the contrary placed the war against the Central Powers at the forefront of their explanations of the intervention, although they acknowledged a whole range of subsidiary motivations, including a deep-seated hostility to the Bolshevik government amongst political leaders and within the military.6 More recent studies of national policies have complicated this picture. Michael Carley’s study of French intervention demonstrates that the French General Staff believed the chances of reconstructing an eastern front would be better if they cooperated with the Bolsheviks rather than the anti-Bolsheviks.7 David Foglesong argues that a broad examination of American actions in Russia uncovers a much deeper hostility to Bolshevism on the part of the American government, and Wil4 Vladislav Goldin estimates that by the end of the 1990s more than 20,000 books and articles on the Civil War and intervention had been published in Russia and abroad. Vladislav Goldin, “New Views on the Allied Intervention,” Revolutionary Russia 13, 1 (2000): 88. 5 See John M. Thompson, “Allied and American Intervention in Russia, 1918–1921,” in Rewriting Russian History: Soviet Interpretations of Russia’s Past, ed. C. E. Black (London: Atlantic Press, 1957), 334–400. See also George Kennan, “Soviet Historiography and America’s Role in the Intervention,” American Historical Review 65, 2 (1960): 302–22. Thompson cites the following (amongst others) as examples of the trend he identifies : I. I. Mints, Angliiskaia interventsiia i severnaia kontr-revoliutsiia (Moscow: Sotsekgiz, 1931); P. A. Lisovskii, SSSR i kapitalisticheskoe okruzhenie (Moscow: Gospolitizdat, 1939); A. V. Berezkin, SShA: Aktivnyi organizator i uchastnik voennoi interventsii protiv sovetskoi Rossii (Moscow: Gospolitizdat, 1952). 6 For example George Kennan’s two-volume study Soviet-American Relations 1917–21 (London: Faber and Faber, 1956–58); Richard Ullman’s three-volume Anglo-Soviet Relations 1917–21 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961–72); and...
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRussian International Relations in War and Revolution, 1914–22
Subtitle of host publicationBook 2: Revolution and Civil War
EditorsDavid Schimmelpenninck van der Oye , Oleg Budnitskii, Michael Hughes, David McDonald
Place of PublicationBloomington, Indiana
PublisherSlavica Publishers
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780893574376
ISBN (Print)9780893574369
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2021


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