The civil wars between the Bolsheviks (also known as Red Army or Reds) and the anti-Bolsheviks (White Army or Whites) ravaged Russia until 1920. The Whites represented all shades of anti-Communist groups, including members of the constituent assembly. Several of their leaders favoured setting up a military dictatorship, but few were outspoken tsarists.
Armed opposition to the Soviet regime centred at first in the south, where the volunteers under Kornilov (succeeded by Denikin) joined forces with the Don Cossacks.
The Ukraine was the scene of fighting after the Germans evacuated it following the general armistice of November 11, 1918; it was seized by the Bolsheviks (early 1919), by Denikin's forces (Aug.-Dec., 1919), again by the Bolsheviks (Dec., 1919), and finally by the Poles (May, 1920), with whom war had broken out over the Russo-Polish frontier question.
Denikin in the meantime had turned over his command to General Wrangel, who after the conclusion of the Russo-Polish armistice was driven by the Bolsheviks into the Crimea and was obliged to evacuate his forces to Constantinople (November 1920).
The civil war in the east was equally fatal to the Whites. A government was organised at Samara by a group of Socialist Revolutionaries who had been members of the constituent assembly. It received the support of the Czech Legion, which controlled the Trans-Siberian Railway, but it merged (Sept., 1918) with a more conservative government set up at Omsk, in Siberia, and a few weeks later fell under the dictatorship of Admiral Kolchak.
Although at first successful, Kolchak's forces were eventually driven to the Russian Far East; by Jan., 1920, all Siberia except Vladivostok and some other Far Eastern territory was in Bolshevik hands.
The civil war was complicated by Allied intervention. In Northern Russia, British, French, and American forces occupied (Mar., 1918) Murmansk and later Arkhangelsk with the stated purpose of protecting Allied stores against possible seizure by the Germans; they were evacuated only in Nov., 1919. In the Russian Far East the Allies occupied Vladivostok, which the Japanese held until 1922.
The Bolshevik military victory was due partly to the lack of co-operation among the various White commanders and partly to the remarkable re-organisation of the Red forces after Trotsky became commissar for war. It was won, however, only at the price of immense sacrifice; Russia by 1920 was ruined and devastated. Atrocities were committed throughout the civil war by both sides.