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War and Conflict

Russian Revolution

What was the Red Terror?

The Red Terror was the brutal coercion used by the Communists during the tumultuous years of civil unrest that followed the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917. After the revolution, the Bolsheviks, now called Communists, put their leader, Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), into power. Delivering on the Bolshevik promise to end the country’s involvement in World War I (1914–18), Lenin immediately called for peace talks with Germany, ending the fighting on the eastern front. (Germany and the other Central Powers would be prevented from victory on the western front by the entry of the United States into the war that same year.) But the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, signed March 3, 1918, dictated harsh—and many believed humiliating—terms to Russia, which was forced to give up vast territories including Finland, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldavia, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Meantime, Russians had elected officials to a parliamentary assembly. But when the results were unfavorable to Lenin (of the 703 deputies chosen, only 168 were Communists), he ordered his troops to bar the deputies from convening, and so the assembly was permanently disbanded. In its place, Lenin established a dictatorship based on Communist secret police, the Cheka. Further, the radical social reforms he had promised took the form of government takeover of Russia’s industries and the seizure of farm products from the peasants. Lenin’s hard-handed tactics created opposition to the Communists—colloquially known as the Reds. The opposition organized their White army, and civil war ensued. In September 1918 Lenin was nearly assassinated by a political opponent, prompting Lenin’s supporters to organize the retaliative initiative that came to be known as the Red Terror. Though thousands of Communist opponents were killed as a result, the unrest in Russia would not end until 1920. And some believe the ruthless repression of the Red Terror lasted into 1924.



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