White movement

White movement
White Movement
Бѣлое движенiе
Белое движение
Participant in the Russian Civil War
Flag of Russia.svg
Flag of the White Movement
Active 1917–1923
Ideology Anti-Bolshevism
Russian nationalism
Leaders Kolchak, Alexander Vasilyevich (1918-early 1920)
Denikin, Anton Ivanovich (1920)
Wrangel, Pyotr Nikolaevich (1920)
Strength 2,400,000 troops
Became White émigré
Allies Allies of World War I
Opponents  Soviet Union
( Russian SFSR)
 Republic of China
Nationalist movements
Several communist states and movements
Battles/wars Russian Civil War (incl. Southern Front, Northern Front, Eastern Front and Yakut Revolt)

The White movement (Russian: Бѣлое движенiе/Белое движение, tr. Beloye dvizheniye) and its military arm the White Army (Бѣлая Армiя/Белая Армия, Belaya Armiya) - known as the White Guard (Бѣлая Гвардiя/Белая Гвардия, Belaya Gvardiya) or the Whites (Белые and белогвардейцы “White Guardsmen”) - was a loose confederation of Anti-Communist forces.

The movement comprised one of the politico-military Russian forces who fought the "Red" Bolsheviks in the former Russian Empire after the October Revolution, and then against the Red Army in the subsequent Russian Civil War (1917–23).


Structure and ideology

In the Russian context, White connoted three designations:

  1. political contra-distinction to the Reds, whose revolutionary Red Army supported the Bolsheviks and Communism;
  2. historical reference to absolute monarchy, specifically united under Russia’s first Tsar, Ivan III (1462–1505), styled “Albus Rex” (“White King”); and
  3. sartorially, that some White Army soldiers wore the white uniforms of Imperial Russia.


Imperial insigne: The Kolchak Government in Russia.

The White movement posited themselves as the opponents of the “evil” Red Army.[1] They advertised themselves as bringing “law and order” and the “salvation of Russia,” fighting against traitors, barbarians, and murderers.[2] They often acted in response to previous Red aggression and worked to remove Soviet organizations and functionaries in White-controlled territory.[3]

Overall, the White Army was nationalistic and patriotic [1] and thus, rejected ethnic particularism and separatism.[2] The White Army generally believed in a united multinational Russia, and opposed separatists wanting to create nation-states instead of the Tsarist Russian Empire. Amongst White Army members, anti-Semitism was widespread[1] which embarrassed its Western sponsors, given the Bolsheviks' outlawing of anti-Semitism in Russia. Winston Churchill personally warned General Denikin, whose forces effected pogroms, that “my task in winning support in Parliament for the Russian Nationalist cause will be infinitely harder if well-authenticated complaints continue to be received from Jews in the zone of the Volunteer Armies”.[4]

Another overarching characteristic of the White movement was the conservatism of many leaders. Autocracy was accepted while “politics” (what they saw as speeches, elections, party activities) was suspect.[1]

The White Armies had no main leader, sets of texts, or doctrine.[1] They did, though, acknowledge a single provisional head of state, the so called Supreme Governor of Russia, but this post was only prominent while Alexander Kolchak was filling it. So, aside from being anti-Bolshevik[2] and patriotic, the Whites had no set ideology.[1] The movement had no set plan for foreign policy; Whites differed on policies toward Germany, debating whether or not to ally with it. The Whites wanted to keep from alienating any potential supporters and allies, and thus saw an exclusively monarchist position as a detriment to their cause and recruitment. White movement leaders such as Anton Denikin advocated for Russians to create their own government, claiming the military could not decide in Russians’ steads.[1] Admiral Alexander Kolchak actually succeeded in creating a temporary wartime government in Omsk, acknowledged by most other White leaders, only for it to fall with the loss of his armies. Some warlords aligned with the White movement, such as Grigory Semyonov and Roman Ungern von Sternberg, did not acknowledge any authority but their own. Consequently, the White movement had no set political leanings: members could be monarchists, republicans,[1] rightists, Kadets, etc.[5] Among White Army leaders, neither General Lavr Kornilov nor General Anton Denikin were monarchists, yet General Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel was a monarchist willing to soldier for an elected, democratic Russian government. Moreover, other political parties supported the anti-Bolshevik White Army, among them the democrats, the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, and others opposing Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s Bolshevik October Revolution; yet, depending on the time and place, those White Army supporters also exchanged right-wing allegiance for allegiance with the Red Army.


"Why aren't you in the army?" Volunteer Army recruitment poster during the Russian Civil War.
The White Army: the flag of the Battalion of Death, later integral to the Volunteer Army.

Various and un-unified White forces existed, the most important and largest of which was the Volunteer Army in South Russia.[1] Starting off as a small and well-organized military in 1917, the Volunteer Army soon grew. In 1918, the Kuban Cossacks joined the White Army and conscription of both peasants and Cossacks began. In late February 1918, 4,000 soldiers under the command of General Aleksei Kaledin were forced to retreat from Rostov-on-Don due to the onset of the Red Army and left for Kuban in order to unite with the Kuban Cossacks - most of which did not support the Volunteer Army - a maneuver known as the Ice March. In March, 3,000 men under the command of General Viktor Pokrovsky joined the Volunteer Army, increasing its membership to 6,000, and by June to 9,000. In 1919, the Don Cossacks joined and the Army began drafting Ukrainian peasants. In that year, between May and October, the Volunteer Army grew from 64,000 to 150,000 soldiers and was better supplied than its Red counterpart.[5] The White Army’s rank-and-file comprised active anti-Bolsheviks, such as Cossacks, nobles, and peasants, as conscripts and volunteers.

The White movement’s leaders – and first members[5] – were mainly military officers, though many came from outside of the nobility, such as generals Mikhail Alekseev and Anton Denikin, who came from serf families; or Lavr Kornilov, who was a Cossack. The White generals never mastered administration;[1] they often utilized “prerevolutionary functionaries” or “military officers with monarchististic inclinations” for administering White-controlled regions[3]

The White Armies were often lawless and disordered.[2] Also, White-controlled territories had multiple different and varying currencies with unstable exchange rates; and the main currency, the Volunteer Army’s ruble, had no gold backing.[5]

Theatres of operation

  Bolshevik control, February 1918
  Bolshevik control, Summer of 1918
  Maximum advance of the anti-Bolshevik armies

The Whites and the Reds fought the Russian Civil War from November 1917 until 1921, and isolated battles continued in the Far East until 1923. The White Army—aided by the Allied forces (Triple Entente) from countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and the United States and (sometimes) the Central Powers forces such as Germany and Austria-Hungary fought in Siberia, Ukraine, and the Crimea, but were defeated by the Red Army because of military and ideological disunity as well as the determination and increasing unity of the Red Army.

The main White Army war theatres were:

  • The Southern front: Started on November 15, 1917 (creation officially announced on December 27 [both O.S.]) 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". The Southern Front featured massive-scale operations and was the most dangerous threat to the Bolshevik Government. At first, it was based entirely upon volunteers in Russia proper, mostly the Cossacks, among the first to oppose the Bolshevik Government. In 1919, after General Denikin’s attack upon Moscow failed, the Armed Forces of the South of Russia retreated. On March 26 and March 27, 1920 the remnants of the Volunteer Army were evacuated from Novorossiysk to the Crimea, where they merged with the army of Pyotr Wrangel.
  • The Eastern (Siberian) front: Started in spring 1918, as a secret movement among army officers and right-wing socialist forces. In that front, they launched an attack in collaboration with the Czechoslovak Legions (then stranded in Siberia by the Bolshevik Government who barred them from leaving Russia). Admiral Aleksandr Vasilevich Kolchak headed that counter-revolutionary army and a provisional Russian government; despite some significant success in 1919, they were defeated and repelled to far eastern Russia, where they continued fighting until October 1922.

The same month, the Second Kuban Campaign was launched with support from Pyotr Krasnov. By September, the Volunteer Army was composed of 30,000-35,000 members, thanks to mobilization of the Kuban Cossacks gathered in the North Caucasus. Thus, the Volunteer Army took the name of the Caucasus Volunteer Army.

On January 23, 1919 the Volunteer Army took the name and Denikin oversaw the defeat of the 11th Soviet Army and capture of the North Caucasus region. After capturing Donbass, Tsaritsyn and Kharkov in June, Denikin's forces surrounded Moscow on July 3 (N.S.). The plan was for 40,000 fighters, under the command of General Vladimir May-Mayevsky to storm the city.

Post–Civil War

The defeated anti-Bolshevik Russians congregated in Belgrade, Berlin, Paris, Harbin, Istanbul, and Shanghai, and established military and cultural networks that lasted through the Second World War (1939–45), e.g., the Russian community in Harbin and the Russian community in Shanghai); afterwards, the White Russian’s anti-Communist activities established a home base in the United States. Moreover, in the 1920s and the 1930s, the White Movement established organisations, outside of Russia, meant to depose the Soviet Government with guerrilla warfare, e.g., the Russian All-Military Union, the Brotherhood of Russian Truth, and the National Alliance of Russian Solidarists. Russian cadet corps were established to prepare the next generation of anti-Communists for the “spring campaign” — a hopeful term denoting a renewed military campaign to reconquer Russia from the Soviet Government. In the event, many cadets volunteered to fight for the Russian Corps during the Second World War, the White Russian participation in the Russian Liberation Movement.

White Russians served under the Soviet Red Army during the Soviet Invasion of Xinjiang and the Xinjiang War (1937). Many graves at a memorial to war dead in Xinjiang, China have tombs with Russian Orthodox crosses. These White Russians were killed by the Chinese Muslim 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) under General Ma Hushan.[6]

Prominent persons

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kenez, Peter, "The Ideology of the White Movement," Soviet Studies, 1980, no. 32. pp. 58-83.
  2. ^ a b c d Christopher Lazarski, "White Propaganda Efforts in the South during the Russian Civil War, 1918-19 (The Alekseev-Denikin Period)," The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Oct., 1992), pp. 688-707.
  3. ^ a b Viktor G. Bortnevski, “White Administration and White Terror (The Denikin Period),” Russian Review, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Jul., 1993), pp. 354-366.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ a b c d Kenez, Peter, Civil War, 90.
  6. ^ Memorial to men who died in battle against Ma Hushan, includes Russian Orthodox crosses

External links

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