Reassessing Russian warlordism| The case for a new paradigm

by Collin J Wonnacott

Institution: The Florida State University
Year: 2016
Keywords: History; Russian history
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2082141
Full text PDF: http://pqdtopen.proquest.com/#viewpdf?dispub=10161127


The Russian Civil War is an incredibly complex topic that is frequently oversimplified to a Red vs White framework, where the Bolshevik forces face a perceived monolithic ‘White’ opposition. While this conceptualization can be useful, the reality is much more complex; various factions, some controlling far-flung territories or even no territory, formed and broke alliances with each other and fought furiously to achieve their ends. The ‘White’ forces are frequently presented as an amalgamation of different factions and armies that had differing, sometimes opposing, views. The typical view of the Russian civil war is clearly oversimplified, but recent scholarship attempting to reassess the Civil War has brought new insight and understanding to the conflict. In particular, the designation of certain White elements as ‘warlords’ has become more common. The warlord argument provides an alternative to the older, more traditional view of monolithic ‘White’ against ‘Red’ by showing that not all White commanders fought for the same ends, and many were motivated by selfish desires or goals. Similarly, since warlords tend not to work well together, it helps explain the disunity of the White movement. The warlord paradigm has its flaws, namely that the warlords of the Civil War were not common; in fact, the only commanders which truly qualified for the moniker were in the Far East, and barely participated in the Civil War. The warlord framework proves to be quite useless when applied to individual commanders of the White movement, and therefore a better means of reclassification is required. To that end, the White forces, after careful assessment of whether they are warlords, should instead be classified by new criteria. The result is a new dichotomy within the White movement: Western Whites and Eastern Whites. The dichotomy offered is based on orientation, rather than geography. Western White forces were focused on capturing Western Russia, specifically Moscow and Petrograd, while the Eastern Whites were more interested in consolidating their own power base in the Far East. The Western and Eastern White forces were nominally allies and anti-Bolshevik, but practically had very different goals and worked to achieve different ends. The Western Whites were the remnants of the Tsarist military elites, fighting to restore Russia and defeat Bolshevism, while the Eastern Whites were warlords in the employ of foreign powers primarily concerned with their own selfish ends. The main thesis of this work is that the warlord paradigm does not apply to most White commanders, and should be abandoned in favor of a broader Western/Eastern dichotomy.