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Civil War of 1917–1922

CIVIL WAR OF 19171922

The most decisive chapter of the Russian Revolution, the civil war raged between October 1917 and 1922. The traumatic experience of civil war served as a defining moment for the new Soviet state by embedding itself into both the people's and the state's outlook and behavior.

The origins of the Russian civil war can be found in the discrediting of the tsarist government that took place before World War I; in the social divisions that shaped politics before and during the Revolution of 1917; and in the Bolshevik leadership's belief in the importance of civil war, in the imminence of world revolution, and in the acceptability of applying coercion in setting up a dictatorship of the proletariat. Although historians disagree over when the civil war began, dating the event to the October Revolution of 1917 makes sense, because that is how contemporaries understood it. Moreover, armed opposition to the new Bolshevik government, the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom ), arose immediately after October when officers of the Imperial Army, Mikhail Alexeyev, Lavr Kornilov, Anton Denikin, Alexei Kaledin, and others, formed the first counterforce known as the Volunteer Army, based in southern Russia.

During the civil war the Bolsheviks, or Reds (renamed "communists" in 1918), waged war against the Whites. A term used loosely to refer to all factions that battled against the Bolsheviks, the Whites were a more diverse group than the Bolshevik label of "counterrevolution" suggests. Those who represented the country's business and landowning elite did tend to express monarchist sentiments. In addition, Cossack military units that had enjoyed self-government and other privileges likewise held conservative political views. But many White officers opposed the autocracy and even harbored reformist beliefs.

Much more complicated were the Bolsheviks' relations with Russia's moderate socialists, the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs), and with both parties' numerous offshoots, who wished to establish a government that would include all socialist parties. The internecine struggle within the socialist camp persisted throughout the civil war, and flared up after the Bolsheviks routed the Whites in 1920. Fearing a White victory, the moderate socialists complicated this scenario by throwing their support behind the Reds at critical junctures. Moreover, left-wing factions within these parties allied themselves with the Bolsheviks. For instance, until mid-1918 the Bolsheviks stayed afloat in part owing to the support of the Left SRs, who broke from their parent party following the October Revolution of 1917 to join the Bolsheviks.

In some locales the Bolshevik-Left SR coalition even weathered the controversy over the Brest-Litovsk Peace with Germany, signed in March 1918, which otherwise sundered the alliance with the Left SRs, who withdrew from the Lenin government in protest. The peace ceded eastern Poland, the Baltic states, Finland, and Ukraine to Germany, as well as Transcaucasia to Turkey, in return for an end to hostilities. Ratifying the treaty sparked heated debate within the Communist Party, especially among the so-called Left Communists led by Nikolai Bukharin who backed the idea of a revolutionary war against Germany. Later, from September 1918 until October 1920, renegade Left SRs formed a new party called the Revolutionary Communists (RCs), who participated in a ruling coalition with the Bolsheviks in many Volga provinces and the Urals. The Bolshevik attitude toward the socialist groups that supported the Reds reflected the overall strength of Soviet power at any given time. When vulnerable, the Bolsheviks welcomed their socialist allies; otherwise the Bolsheviks sought to manipulate them through a process of co-optation amid repression.

Political opposition to the Bolsheviks became more resolved after they closed down the Constituent Assembly in January 1918. Elected just days after the October Revolution, the assembly was slated to determine Russia's political future. Although Lenin did not dare cancel the elections, he had no reservations about dispensing with the assembly after the SRs and related populist parties won a plurality of just under half of the votes cast. Capturing roughly a quarter of the popular vote, the Bolsheviks fared best in the cities and within the armed forces. Recognizing the need for a military force more formidable than the worker Red Guards who had backed the Bolsheviks' bid for power in October, Lenin established the Red Army under Leon Trotsky shortly after dispersing the Constituent Assembly. Trotsky recruited ex-tsarist officers to command the Reds, appointing political commissars to all units to monitor such officers and the ideological education of recruits. That spring, support for the Bolsheviks within the proletariat began to erode as the Mensheviks made a comeback.

This early phase of the civil war ended with a spate of armed conflicts in Russian towns along the Volga in May and June 1918 between Bolshevik-run soviets (councils) and Czechoslovak legionnaires. Prisoners of war from the Austro-Hungarian armies, the legionnaires had agreed to be transported across Siberia and from there to the Western front in order to join the Allies in the fight to defeat the Central Powers. The Czechoslovaks' clash with the Soviet government emboldened the SR opposition to set up an anti-Bolshevik government, the Committee to Save the Constituent Assembly, Komuch, in the Volga city of Samara in June 1918. Many delegates elected to the Constituent Assembly congregated there before the city fell to the Bolsheviks that November. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks expelled Mensheviks and SRs from local soviets, while the Kadets convened in the Siberian city of Omsk in June 1918 to establish a Provisional Siberian Government (PSG). The rivalry between Samara and Omsk resulted in the last attempt to form from below a national force to oppose Bolshevism, a state conference that met in Ufa in September and set up a five-member Directory after its French revolutionary namesake. But in November the military removed the socialists and installed Admiral Kolchak in power. Remaining official leader of the White movement until defeat forced him to resign in early 1920, he kept his headquarters in Siberia.

Although its role is often exaggerated, international ("Allied") intervention bolstered the White cause and fuelled Bolshevik paranoia, providing "evidence" for the party's depictions of the Whites as traitorous agents of imperialist foreign powers. Dispatching troops to Russia to secure military supplies needed in the war against Germany, the Allies deepened their involvement as they came to see Bolsheviks as a hostile force that promoted world revolution, renounced the tsarist government's debts, and violated Russia's commitment to its allies by concluding a separate peace with Germany. Allied intervention on behalf of the Whites became more active with the end of World War I in November 1918, when the British, French, Japanese, Americans, and other powers sent troops to Russian ports and rail junctures. Revolutionary stirrings in Germany, the founding of the Third Communist International in Moscow in March 1919, and the establishment of a soviet republic in Hungary at roughly the same time heightened the Allies' fears of a Red menace. Yet the Allied governments could not justify intervention in Russia to their own war-weary people. Lacking a common purpose and resolve, and often suspicious of one another, the Allies extended only half-hearted support to the Whites, whom they left in the lurch by withdrawing from Russia in 1919 and 1920 except for the Japanese who kept troops in Siberia for several more years.

Both Reds and Whites turned increasingly to terror in the second half of 1918, utilizing it as a substitute for popular support. Calls to overthrow Soviet power, followed by the assassination of the

German ambassador in July, which the Bolsheviks depicted as the start of a Left SR uprising designed to undercut the Brest-Litovsk Peace, provided the Bolsheviks with an excuse to repress their one-time radical populist allies and to undermine the Left SRs' popularity in the villages. Moreover, with Lenin's knowledge, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed on July 16, 1918. Following an attempt on Lenin's life on August 30, the Bolsheviks unleashed the Red Terror, a ruthless campaign aimed at eliminating political opponents within the civilian population. The Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counterrevolution and Sabotage (Cheka), set up in December 1917 under Felix Dzerzhinsky, carried out the Red Terror. Seeking to reverse social revolution, the Whites savagely waged their own ideological war that justified the use of terror to avenge those wronged by the revolution. Putting to death communists and their sympathizers, and massacring Jews in Ukraine and elsewhere, the Whites were determined to sweep the "Germano-Bolsheviks" from power.

The Whites posed a more serious threat to the Red republic after the Allies defeated Germany in late 1918 and decided to back the Whites' cause. Soon, the Whites engaged the Reds along four fronts: southern Russia, western Siberia, northern Russia, and the Baltic region. Until their rout in 1920, White forces controlled much of Siberia and southern Russia, while the Reds, who moved their capital to Moscow in March 1918, clung desperately to the Russian heartland. The Whites' ambitious three-pronged attack against Moscow in March 1919 most likely decided the military outcome of their war against the Reds. Despite their initial success, the Whites went down in defeat that November, after which their routed forces replaced General Denikin with Petr Wrangel, the most competent of all of the White officers. Coinciding with an invasion of Russia by forces of the newly resurrected Polish state, the Whites opened one final offensive in the spring of 1920. When Red forces overcame Wrangel's army in November, he and his troops evacuated Russia by sea from the Crimea. In the meantime, the Bolsheviks' conflict with the Poles ended in stalemate; the belligerent parties signed an armistice in October 1920, followed by the Treaty of Riga in 1921, which transferred parts of Ukraine and Belorussia to Poland.

Apart from their military encounters with the Whites, the Bolsheviks also had to contend with a front behind their own lines because of the appeal of rival socialist parties and because Bolshevik economic policies alienated much of the working class and drove the peasantry to rise up against the requisitioning of grain and related measures. Known subsequently as war communism, the series of ad hoc policies designed to prosecute the war and to experiment with socialist economic principles was characterized by centralization, state ownership, compulsion, the extraction of surplusesespecially requisitioning of grain, forced location of labor, and a distribution system that rhetorically privileged the toiling classes. Despite the popularity of Bolshevik land reform, which placed all land in the hands of peasants, requisitioning and other measures carried out in 1919 with shocking brutality drove the peasantry into the opposition. The effect of Bolshevik economic policies on the starving and dying cities as well as the party's violations of the political promises of 1917 also turned workers anti-Bolshevik by civil war's end.

Studies tapping long-closed Russian archives underscore the vast scale of workers' strikes and violent peasant rebellions known collectively as the Green movement throughout Russia in early 1921. The enormity of the opposition convinced the communists to replace war communism with the New Economic Policy (NEP), which swapped the hated grain requisitioning with a tax in kind and restored some legal private economic activity. The necessity of this shift in policy from stick to carrot was made clear when, in early March 1921, sailors of the Kronstadt naval fortress rose up against the Bolsheviks whom they had helped bring to power. Demanding the restoration of Soviet democracy without communists, the sailors met with brutal repression that the party's top leaders sanctioned. Although most historians view the Kronstadt uprising, worker disturbances, the peasant movement, and the introduction of the NEP as the last acts of the civil war, after which the party mopped up remaining pockets of opposition in the borderlands, the famine of 1921 can be said to mark the real conclusion to the conflict, for it helped to keep the Bolsheviks in power by robbing the population of initiative. Holding the country in its grip until late 1923, the famine took an estimated five million lives; millions more would have perished without relief provided by foreign agencies such as the British Save the Children Fund and the American Relief Administration.

Moreover, the Bolshevik Party took advantage of mass starvation to end its stalemate with the Orthodox Church. Believing that a materialistic worldview needed to replace religion, the Bolsheviks had forced through a separation of church and state in 1917 and removed schools from church supervision. Once famine hit hard, the party leadership promoted the cause of Orthodox clergy loyal to Soviet power, so-called red priests, or renovationists, who supported the party's determination to use church valuables to finance famine relief. Party leaders allied with the renovationists out of expediency: They had every intention of eventually discarding them when they were no longer needed.

The defeat of the Whites, the end of the war with Poland, and famine made it possible for the Lenin government to focus on regaining breakaway territories in Central Asia, Transcaucasia, Siberia, and elsewhere, where issues of nationalism, ethnicity, religion, class, foreign intervention, and differing levels of economic development and ways of life complicated local civil wars. Russians had composed approximately 50 percent of the tsarist empire's multinational population in which more than a hundred languages were spoken. An increasingly contradictory and even repressive tsarist nationality policies had given rise to numerous grievances among the non-Russian population, but only a minority of intellectuals in the outlying areas before World War I had championed the emergence of independent states. The Revolution of 1917, however, gave impetus to national movements as the provisional government struggled to maintain its authority in the face of potent new challenges from some of the country's minorities.

In January 1918 the Commissariat of Nationalities headed by Joseph Stalin confirmed the Soviet government's support of self-determination of the country's minorities, and characterized the new state as a Federation of Soviet Republics. The first Soviet constitution of July 1918 reiterated these claims, without specifying the nature of federalism. The cost of survival, however, made it necessary to be pragmatic and flexible. For this reason, Lenin soon made it clear that the interests of socialism were more important than the right of self-determination.

Indeed, by 1918 independent states had arisen on the Soviet periphery. Fostered by intellectuals and politicians, local nationalisms tended to develop into political movements with popular support in territories most affected by industrial development. Often, however, class and ethnic conflicts became entangled as these territories turned into major battlefields of the civil war and arenas of foreign intervention.

For instance, Ukraine, where the activities of peasant rebel Nestor Makhno obscured the intertwining hostilities among Reds, Whites, Germans, and Poles, changed hands frequently. Under the black flag of anarchism, Makhno first formed a loose alliance with the communists, but then battled against Red and White alike until Red forces crushed his Insurgent Army in 1920. In the Caucasus, Georgian Mensheviks, Armenian Dashnaks, and Azeri Musavat established popular regimes in 1917 that attempted a short-lived experiment at federalism in 1918 before hostilities between and within the groups surfaced, leaving them to turn to foreign protectors. By 1922 the Red Army had retaken these territories, as well as the mountain regions of the northern Caucasus, where they fought against religious leaders and stiff guerrilla resistance. In Central Asia the Bolsheviks faced stubborn opposition from armed Islamic guerrillas, basmachi, who resisted the Bolshevik takeover until 1923. The Bolsheviks' victory over these breakaway territories led to the founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in December 1922. Smaller than its predecessor, the new Soviet state had lost part of Bessarabia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as part of Ukraine, Belorussia, and Armenia. Granting statehood within the framework of the Russian state to those territories it had recaptured, the Soviet government set up a federation, a centralized, multiethnic, anti-imperial, socialist state.

In accounting for the Bolshevik victory in the civil war, historians have emphasized the relative discipline, self-sacrifice, and centralized nature of the Bolshevik Party; the party's control over the Russian heartland and its resources; the military and political weaknesses of the Whites, who, concentrated on the periphery, relied on Allied bullets and misunderstood the relationship between social policy and military success; the local nature of peasant opposition; the inability of the Bolsheviks' opponents to overcome their differences; the tentative nature of Allied intervention; the effectiveness of Bolshevik propaganda and terror; and, during the initial stage of the conflict, the support of workers and the neutrality of peasants. In defeating the Whites, the Bolsheviks had survived the civil war, but the crisis of early March 1921 suggests that mass discontent with party policies would have continued to fuel the conflict if the party had not ushered in the NEP and if the famine had not broken out.

The Russian civil war caused wide-scale devastation; economic ruin; loss of an estimated seven to eight million people, of whom more than five million were civilian casualties of fighting, repression, and disease; the emigration of an estimated one to two million others; and approximately five million deaths caused by the famine of 19211923. Moreover, the civil war destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, producing a steep decline in the standard of living as industrial production fell to less than 30 percent of the pre-1914 level and the amount of land under cultivation decreased sharply. The civil war also brought about deurbanization, created a transient problem of enormous proportions, militarized civilian life, and turned towns into breeding grounds for diseases. Furthermore, war communism strengthened the authoritarian streak in Russian political culture and contributed to the consolidation of a one-party state as the population turned its attention to honing basic survival strategies.

The price of survival was the temporary naturalization of economic life, famine, and the entrenchment of a black market and a system of privileges for party members. While the sheer enormity of the convulsion brought about a primitivization of the entire social system, it was not simply a matter of regression, but also of new structuring, which focused on the necessities of physical survival. The social fabric absorbed those everyday practices that had been mediated or modified in these extreme circumstances of political chaos and economic collapse, as the desire to survive and to withdraw from public life created problems that proved difficult to solve and undermined subsequent state efforts to reconfigure society. In this regard the civil war represented a formative, even defining experience for the Soviet state.

See also: bolshevism; brest-litovsk peace; famine of 19211922; green movement; kolchak, alexander vasilievich; left socialist revolutionaries; lenin, vladimir ilich; menhsheviks; october revolution; red guards; red terror; socialist revolutionaries; sovnarkom; war communism; white army


Brovkin, Vladimir N. (1994). Behind the Front Lines of the Civil War: Political Parties and Social Movements in Russia, 19181922. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Figes, Orlando. (1997). A People's Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution. New York: Viking.

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Kenez, Peter. (1977). Civil War in South Russia, 19191920: The Defeat of the Whites. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Koenker, Diane P.; Rosenberg, William G.; and Suny, Ronald G., eds. (1989). Party, State, and Society in the Russian Civil War: Explorations in Social History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Mawdsely, Evan. (1987). The Russian Civil War. Boston: Allen & Unwin.

McAuley, Mary. (1991). Bread and Justice: State and Society in Petrograd, 19171922. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Patenaude, Bertrand M. (2002). Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Pereira, G. O. (1996). White Siberia: The Politics of Civil War. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Raleigh, Donald J. (2002). Experiencing Russia's Civil War: Politics, Society, and Revolutionary Culture in Saratov, 19171922. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Roslof, Edward E. (2002). Red Priests: Renovationism, Russian Orthodoxy, and Revolution, 19051946. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Smele, Jonathan. (1996). Civil War in Siberia: The Anti-Bolshevik Government of Admiral Kolchak, 19181920. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Swain, Geoffrey. (1996). The Origins of the Russian Civil War. London: Longman.

Donald J. Raleigh

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"Civil War of 1917–1922." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . 19 Jan. 2018 <>.

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Civil Wars

Civil Wars





Since the end of World War II (19391945), civil wars (wars within nations) have surpassed interstate wars (wars between nations) as the most frequent and destructive forms of organized armed conflict in the world. The Correlates of War Project, a major data archive on armed conflict, reports that there were only twenty-three interstate wars between 1945 and 1997, resulting in 3.3 million battle deaths. By contrast, there were more than four times as many civil wars (108), resulting in almost four times as many casualties (11.4 million; Sarkees 2000).

A second shift in the patterns of conflict is that until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, almost all of the civil wars that occurred since 1945 took place in third world nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. By contrast, the interstate wars that punctuated the historical record of the three centuries prior to World War II took place primarily in Europe among the major powers of the international system (Holsti 1996). Yet from 1945 until 1991, Europe was almost completely free of armed conflict on its soil (Holsti 1992, p. 37; 1996).

A third salient pattern in the recent wave of civil wars is that once a nation experienced one civil war, it was very likely to experience a second one. The 108 civil wars in the Correlates of War data set occurred in only fifty-four nations. Only twenty-six of those nations had one and only one civil war, while the remaining twenty-eight nations had at least two and as many as five separate civil wars. Thus, for a certain subset of nations, civil war is a chronically recurrent condition.

One encouraging trend to emerge since the end of the Cold War is the willingness of the international community to broker negotiated settlements to civil wars and to support those settlements with peacekeeping forces. Nineteen of the twenty-six civil wars that ended in negotiated settlements were resolved after 1988, including United Nations (UN)mediated settlements to protracted civil wars in Cambodia, Mozambique, and El Salvador, to name but a few. Not all of these peace settlements have lasted: the peace established by settlement agreements in Angola, Colombia, and Lebanon, for example, later broke down into renewed civil war. However, when negotiated settlements are supported by UN peacekeeping forces, the resulting peace has proven to be rather durable (Fortna 2004; Doyle and Sambanis 2000).


The term civil war is used to describe organized armed conflict between the armed forces of a sovereign state and one or more rebel organizations drawn from the population of that nation. Two subtypes of civil war can be distinguished: revolutions and secessionist revolts. In a revolution, the rebels seek to overthrow the existing government and assume control of the state themselves. Civil wars in Nicaragua (19781979), El Salvador (1979 1992), and Cambodia (19701975, 19791991) are examples of revolutionary civil wars. In a secessionist revolt, the rebels seek not to take over the existing state but to gain independence from it by creating a second sovereign nation-state out of a portion of the territory of the original nation. The Tamil revolt in Sri Lanka that began in 1983, the Eritrean revolt against Ethiopia (1974 1990), and the Biafra revolt in Nigeria (19671970) are examples of secessionist revolts.

A further distinction among civil wars concerns whether they are ethnic conflicts or not. Among revolutionary civil wars, those that are nonethnic or ideological typically involved peasant-based insurgencies in nations where the agricultural sector dominates the economy. Where land ownership is concentrated in the hands of a small landed elite, the large peasant majority is often relegated to a life of poverty as landless or land-poor cultivators. When an authoritarian state employs repression to preserve the prerogatives of the landed elite against peasant-based dissident movements, revolutionary insurgencies can arise by drawing support from landless and land-poor peasants. The civil wars in El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, and Guatemala followed this pattern.

In ethnic conflicts, the same issues of inequality and repression generate the grievances that motivate rebels and their supporters. However, ethnicity adds another dimension to the conflict between state and society. In ethnic revolutions, ethnicity and inequality often coincide: those who are victims of various forms of inequality are from one ethnic group, while those who enjoy a disproportionate share of the advantages available in the nation are from a different ethnic group. Ethnic divisions add cultural and identity issues to the fuel of conflict. Members of one ethnic group fear the suppression of their culture, language, religion, and heritage at the hands of a regime dominated by a rival ethnic group. Where ethnic groups out of power are concentrated in geographic enclaves, their response to this ethnic security dilemma is often to launch a secessionist war aimed at establishing their homeland as a separate sovereign nation. The Eritrean secession from Ethiopia fits this pattern. Where ethnic groups are more intermixed geographically, groups out of power often resort to revolutionary violence in an attempt to overthrow a state dominated by their ethnic rivals and to establish themselves in power. The ethnic revolutions in Angola and Rwanda fit this pattern.


The observable patterns of conflict discussed earlier provide some clues as to the factors that make a nation more or less susceptible to the outbreak of civil war. The fact that until 1991 almost all civil wars occurred in third world nations suggests that factors common to third world nations but not postindustrial democracies or former Leninist regimes might be implicated in the causal process leading to civil war. One such feature is that almost all of these nations were at one time colonies of European powers. Colonial powers harnessed the economies of these regions to serve the demands of markets in Europe and North America. In so doing, they disrupted existing patterns of agricultural production for local markets, as well as the patterns of community organization that supported that production and provided indigenous communities with reliable survival strategies (Migdal 1988).

Decolonization may have conferred formal sovereignty on former colonies, but rarely did the departing colonial power endow the postcolonial state with the institutional capacity or economic wherewithal to develop a strong and effective state capable of providing its constituents with civil order and a reasonable level of material well-being. Lacking legitimacy based on effective performance, weak states came to perceive any dissident challengepeaceful or otherwiseas a threat to the state itself. The weak state responded with the one policy instrument at its disposal: military repression. Repression forced challengers to resort to violence of their own in order to advance their claims and defend themselves against the state. This cycle of violence begetting violence often escalated to civil war.

Empirical research on predictors of civil war onset provides support for the proposition that the weak state syndrome described above is associated with susceptibility to civil war. A number of correlates of the weak state syndrome consistently distinguish nations that experience civil war from those that do not. Not surprisingly, civil wars are more likely to occur among nations that have lower levels of economic development (Fearon and Laitin 2003; Collier and Hoeffler 1998). Where poverty is widespread, the opportunity costs of participating in armed rebellion are lower: participants have less to lose by joining an armed rebellion than would be the case were they more prosperous. Rebel recruiting is facilitated by low levels of economic well-being (Collier and Hoeffler 1998). Economic underdevelopment also constrains the capacity of the state to respond to dissident movements with accommodative reforms that might defuse tensions short of armed conflict.

Other dimensions of state strength affect a nations susceptibility to civil war as well. Although the evidence is mixed, there is some support for the proposition that both democracies and autocracies are less likely to experience civil war than weak authoritarian regimes (Henderson and Singer 2000; Auvinen 1997; Hegre et al. 2001). The institutions of democracy provide aggrieved groups with an alternative to violence as a means to seek redress of their grievances. Elected leaders have an electoral incentive to address those grievances with accommodative policies, and they risk electoral costs if they respond with repression. Highly autocratic regimes are also relatively immune to civil war because the overwhelming coercive capacity of such states precludes armed uprisings by repressing dissent preemptively.

It is the weak authoritarian regimes (anocracies) or nations undergoing the transition to democracy that are the most susceptible to civil war (Hegre et al. 2001). They lack both the institutional capacity to resolve popular grievances through accommodative policies and the coercive capacity to repress dissent preemptively. When faced with a dissident challenge, such regimes attempt to repress it but fail, confronting dissidents with the choice of withdrawing from politics and suffering in silence or adopting violent tactics of their own to overthrow the incumbent regime.


One feature of civil wars that has drawn considerable attention recently has been the question of their duration (how long they last) and their outcome (whether they end in a government victory, a rebel victory, or some sort of negotiated settlement). Civil wars do tend to last longer than interstate wars: the 108 civil wars described in the Correlates of War lasted an average of 1,665 days, whereas the twenty-three interstate wars lasted only 480 days on average. Because civil wars have lasted so long, new civil wars began at a faster rate than ongoing wars ended (until about 1994), with the result being a relentless accumulation of ongoing civil wars (Fearon 2004). The long duration of civil wars also accounts for their destructiveness. The rate at which casualties occur is usually lower in civil wars than in interstate wars; interstate wars are, on average, more intensely destructive. However, because civil wars last so much longer than interstate wars, their cumulative death toll usually exceeds that of interstate wars.

The duration of civil wars also affects their outcome. There is evidence that military victories by either the government or the rebels usually occur fairly early in the conflict if they occur at all. For rebel movements especially, the evidence suggests that if they are going to win, victory will occur within the first two or three years of the conflict. Governments, too, tend to win early if they win at all (Mason et al. 1999). Past some point (about eight to ten years into the civil war), neither side is likely to achieve military victory, and they settle into what William Zartman has termed a mutually hurting stalemate (1993, p. 24), whereby neither side has the capacity to defeat the other, but both sides have the capacity to deny victory to their rival.

It is at this point that civil wars become ripe for resolution. Third-party mediationusually by the United Nationscan bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict. While negotiated settlements are more likely than military victories to be followed by renewed conflict (Licklider 1995), negotiated settlements supported by UN peacekeeping forces are more likely to last (Fortna 2004; Doyle and Sambanis 2000). Peacekeepers provide both sides with credible guarantees that they can disarm and demobilize without fear of their rival violating the agreement and achieving through deception what they could not achieve on the battlefield (Walter 2002). Data from the UNs Department of Peacekeeping Operations indicate that forty-seven of the sixty peacekeeping operations established since 1945 have been deployed in civil wars, and forty-three of those were deployed after the cold war ended. Thus, UN brokering of peace agreements and deployment of peacekeeping forces have brought about a decline in the frequency, duration, and deadliness of civil wars, developments that offer some hope for future trends in the frequency, duration, and destructiveness of civil war.

SEE ALSO Coup dEtat; Destabilization; Diplomacy; Dissidents; Genocide; Guerilla Warfare; Lebanese Civil War; Peace; Spanish Civil War; U.S. Civil War; United Nations; Yugoslavian Civil War


Auvinen, Juha. 1997. Political Conflict in Less Developed Countries, 198189. Journal of Peace Research 34: 177195.

Collier, Paul, and Anke Hoeffler. 1998. On the Economic Causes of Civil War. Oxford Economic Papers 50 (4): 563573.

Correlates of War Project.

Doyle, Michael, and Nicholas Sambanis. 2000. International Peacebuilding: A Theoretical and Quantitative Analysis. American Political Science Review 94: 779801.

Fearon, James D. 2004. Why Do Some Civil Wars Last So Much Longer Than Others. Journal of Peace Research 41 (3): 275301.

Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. 2003. Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War. American Political Science Review 97 (1): 7590.

Fortna, Paige. 2004. Does Peacekeeping Keep the Peace? International Intervention and the Duration of Peace After Civil War. International Studies Quarterly 48 (2): 269292.

Hegre, Håvard, Tanja Ellingsen, Nils Petter Gleditsch, and Scott Gates. 2001. Toward a Democratic Civil Peace? Democracy, Political Change, and Civil War, 18161992. American Political Science Review 95 (1): 3448.

Henderson, Errol A., and J. David Singer. 2000. Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 194692. Journal of Peace Research 37: 275299.

Holsti, K. J. 1992. International Theory and War in the Third World. In The Insecurity Dilemma: National Security of Third World States, ed. Brian L. Job, 3760. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

Holsti, K. J. 1996. The State, War, and the State of War. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Horowitz, Donald L. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Licklider, Roy. 1995. The Consequences of Negotiated Settlements in Civil Wars, 19451993. American Political Science Review 89 (3): 681690

Mason, T. David. 2004. Caught in the Crossfire: Revolutions, Repression, and the Rational Peasant. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield.

Mason, T. David, Joseph P. Weingarten, and Patrick J. Fett. 1999. Win, Lose, or Draw: Predicting the Outcome of Civil Wars. Political Research Quarterly 52 (2): 239268.

Migdal, Joel S. 1988. Strong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sarkees, Meredith Reid. 2000. The Correlates of War Data on War: An Update to 1997. Conflict Management and Peace Science 18 (1): 123144.

United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Walter, Barbara. 2002. Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Zartman, I. William. 1993. The Unfinished Agenda: Negotiating Internal Conflicts. In Stopping the Killing: How Civil Wars End, ed. Roy Licklider, 2034. New York: New York University Press.

T. David Mason

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civil wars

civil wars, 1642–51. Armed conflict between king and Parliament, which also involved invasions of Ireland and Scotland by parliamentary armies. The early Stuart monarchy was hobbled in two critical respects. Without a standing army or paid bureaucracy, it lacked the power to coerce its subjects. Without adequate income from legal sources (including parliamentary taxation) it lacked financial power. James I and Charles I attempted to augment their income by raising customs duties, levying forced loans, exploiting feudal fiscal privileges, and inventing a new form of non-parliamentary taxation—ship money. Although Parliament was, if anything, growing weaker during the decades prior to 1640, unparliamentary taxation, arbitrary arrest, and other Stuart high-handedness caused resentment and alienation among large segments of the nobility, gentry, lawyers, and merchants who comprised the political nation. A significant minority of these classes had imbibed puritan and common law doctrines that stiffened their defiance towards the absolutist pretensions of the king.

In 1629 Charles I dismissed Parliament, resolving never to call another. He might have succeeded but for the problem of the multiple kingdoms. During the 1630s he decided to bring Scottish religious practice into conformity with English by abolishing presbyterian worship and substituting an Anglican service. The Scots revolted, and Charles's two attempts to subdue them—the Bishops' wars of 1639 and 1640—were abject failures. Tax revenues dried up and his soldiers deserted in droves. At the insistence of the nobility he summoned Parliament. Once convened, the Commons refused him the taxes he desperately needed, voting assistance to the Scots instead. They then set about dismantling the apparatus of prerogative government, abolishing ship money, the courts of Star Chamber, High Commission, Wards, and others; passing a Triennial Act, depriving church courts of their punitive powers, and attainting Charles's chief minister Strafford. Charles ratified these changes, but with such ill grace that many doubted whether he would keep his word. Trust became a critical issue upon the outbreak of rebellion in Ireland in the autumn of 1641. As lord-lieutenant of Ireland, Strafford had ruled with a heavy hand. His absence, added to Charles's failure to guarantee the catholic inhabitants security of tenure on their estates, and fear of the resurgent strength of puritanism in the English Parliament, combined to ignite an uprising in Ulster which rapidly spread. Exaggerated reports of atrocities perpetrated against the protestant settlers in Ireland inflamed English opinion. It was universally accepted that an army should be mustered to crush the rebellion, but there was no agreement about entrusting the king with the command. Charles's attempt to arrest five of the parliamentary ringleaders whom he suspected of plotting to impeach the queen, together with the rumour that he had actually authorized the Ulster catholics to rise in rebellion, contributed to the deepening distrust of him. Parliament's demand for control of the sword, and Charles's refusal, was the immediate cause of the outbreak of armed conflict in the autumn of 1642.

Mistrust of the king was compounded by fear that he could not be counted on to defend England against the threat of international catholicism. Far from being a protestant champion, Charles was regarded by many as a crypto-papist. Thus legal and constitutional arguments about taxation, the rights of Parliament, and the extent of royal power were inflamed by religious panic. Religion more than any other single factor brought thousands of men to rally to the standard of either king or Parliament, to risk their lives, and to ‘sheathe their swords in [their countrymen's] bowels’.

If the civil wars were in one sense Europe's last wars of religion, they were also in their early phase a baronial conflict. The armies on both sides were led by aristocrats, and in the king's view it was the nobility, particularly Essex, ‘the chief rebel’, who had instigated the Civil War.

Despite its control of the midlands, the east, and the south-east including London, as well as its capture of the navy, there was nothing inevitable about Parliament's victory. Charles almost overthrew his foes at Edgehill (October 1642), while in 1643 there were a number of royalist victories and a drawn battle between the king's and Essex's armies at Newbury (September 1643). For all the efforts of John Pym to hold together the parliamentary coalition and to finance the war with new excise and assessment taxes, parliamentary fortunes reached their nadir in that year. Popular demand for an end to the war became increasingly insistent.

What turned the tide against Charles I was again the reality of multiple kingdoms. In return for a promise to uphold presbyterian church government and impose it in England, the Scots came to Parliament's aid with an army of 20,000. This bargain was sealed in the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, and the Scots army entered England early in 1644. The joint armies dealt a crushing blow to the king's forces under Prince Rupert and the earl of Newcastle at Marston Moor, near York (July 1644). However, this victory was almost frittered away by Essex when he allowed his army to become trapped by Charles at Lostwithiel in Cornwall (September 1644). Completely disenchanted with the aristocratic leadership of Parliament's armies, the win-the-war faction under Sir Henry Vane and Oliver Cromwell grasped the nettle, by purging the armies of their noble and parliamentary leadership, and creating the New Model Army out of the remains of the armies of Essex, Manchester, and Waller. Led by Sir Thomas Fairfax, and knit together by constant pay and religious indoctrination, this new army quickly put the royalist forces to flight at Naseby (June 1645), Langport (July 1645), and Bristol (September 1645). By May 1646 most royalists had surrendered and Charles had handed himself over to the Scots.

Refusing to accept the verdict of the battlefield, Charles dragged out peace negotiations with Parliament. Meanwhile, Denzil Holles and Sir Philip Stapleton, the political heirs of Essex, who had died in September 1646, moved to disband the New Model with only a fraction of its arrears of pay. The consequence was an army revolt, the seizure of the king at Holdenby, and the invasion of London. Charles attempted to exploit the rift between army and Parliament and redoubled his efforts to persuade the Scots to assist him. At the same time Fairfax, Cromwell, and Ireton struggled to control the Levellers who were striving to seize political control of the army in order to implement their programme of democracy, religious and economic liberty, and decentralization.

Early in 1648 royalist risings erupted in Kent, Essex, Wales, and the navy in anticipation of a Scottish intervention on behalf of the king. But the Scots were late, and the New Model Army had no difficulty crushing the revolts one by one. When the duke of Hamilton crossed the border in July with a small army, he attracted little support, so that Cromwell had no trouble destroying his forces between Preston and Uttoxeter (August 1648). Everywhere triumphant in battle, the army found to its chagrin that Parliament was still intent on negotiating peace with the king. To prevent such an outcome it occupied London, purged the House of Commons of those who favoured negotiation, and engineered the trial and execution of the king. Once the Rump Parliament had abolished monarchy and the House of Lords, it launched invasions of Ireland (1649) and Scotland (1650). In spite of Cromwellian ruthlessness at Drogheda and Wexford, Ireland took three years to subjugate. The Scots were devastated at Dunbar, east of Edinburgh (September 1650), but continued to resist, to the point of invading England a year later under Charles II. His forces scattered at Worcester (September 1651), the hapless king fled to the continent where he sojourned until disunity within the army and a generalized fear of quakers and other radicals paved the way for a bloodless restoration of monarchy. Although the king, lords, and Church of England were brought back in 1660, prerogative government was not. The constitutional changes of 1641 were preserved, while the legacy of the civil wars in radical thought, religious liberty, and parliamentary domination of the state re-emerged in the ‘Glorious’ Revolution of 1688–9.

Ian Gentles


Gentles, I ., The New Model Army in England, Ireland and Scotland, 1645–1653 (Oxford, 1992);
Kenyon, J. , The Civil Wars of England (1988);
Morrill, J. , The Nature of the English Revolution (Harlow, 1993);
Russell, C. , The Causes of the English Civil War (Oxford, 1990).

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Civil War of 1425–1450

CIVIL WAR OF 14251450

The Civil War of 14251450 was a major formative event in Russian history, the impact of which was evident well into the Soviet period. It began as a dynastic controversy, the sole major civil war in the Moscow princely line (the Danilovichi) until that time. This was only one of the ninety major civil wars in Russia between 1228 and 1462. Moscow's other major rivals for hegemony over the East European plain (especially Tver) were constantly destroying themselves in civil wars, whereas Moscow had a single line of unchallenged rulers between 1300 and 1425. If it would be fair to say that Moscow's ultimate triumph as East Slavic hegemon was determined already in the 1390s, then in the political sphere the civil war of 14251450 was almost irrelevant in the long run. In the social sphere, however, the civil war set the ball rolling toward serfdom and, by 1649, to a legally stratified, near-caste society that essentially lasted until the 1950s, when the Soviets finally issued peasants internal passports, putting an end to the serf element of collectivized agriculture. For this reason an understanding of the civil war is both interesting and important.

Muscovite grand prince Basil I died in 1425. Surviving him were his ten-year-old son, who became Basil II, and three brothers, Pyotr (d. 1428), Andrei (d. 1432), and Yuri (d. 1434). The general (but not universal) Muscovite practice had been for succession to be vertical, from father to sona system of limited primogeniture, one of the strengths of the Danilovichi. The issue was complicated by contradictory wills. Dmitry Donskoy had willed the realm to Basil I, then to his next son Yuriall before Basil II was born. Later, Basil I's will of 1423 passed power to his son.

In 1425 Basil II was only a nominal ruler. Real power was in the hands of the boyars, head of the church Metropolitan Foty, and Basil's mother, Sofia Vitovtovna (daughter of the ruler of Lithuania). This group was opposed by Basil's uncle, Yuri Dmitrievich, appanage prince of Zvenigorod and Galich, who would have been the legitimate heir under the archaic system of lateral succession. While he lived, he was regularly raising armies in Galich in an attempt to seize the throne in Moscow. His brother Andrei, prince of Beloozero, conspired with Yuri to keep their nephew off the throne. Three years of war and plundering ended in 1428, when Yuri gave up his pretensions to the throne. Warfare continued, however, as Basil II and Yuri continued to fight over the escheated Dmitrov appanage of Peter, who died in 1428 without heirs. In 1432 the Mongol Khan gave the patent (yarlyk ) to Basil, who was installed as ruler of All Rus in Moscow, which henceforth became the capital of Russia. The khan awarded Dmitrov to Yuri; Dmitrov was then seized by Basil's troops. A temporary calm ensued.

In 1433 Basil II married Maria Yaroslavna, sister of the prince of Serpukhov-Brovsk. In an apparent gesture of clan harmony, Basil's cousins, the sons of Yuri of Galich, Basil Yurievich (Kosoi, d.1448) and Dmitry Yurievich Shemyaka (poisoned in 1453) attended the wedding. A third son, Dmitry Krasny (d. 1441) was absent. Basil Yurievich wore a gem-studded golden belt, which was alleged to be part of the grand princely regalia that had been stolen from Dmitry Donskoy. Sofia Vitovtovna took the belt, the keystone of subsequent Russian history, from Basil Yurievich, who then with his brother fled to their father Yuri's estate in Galich. Yuri rounded up his army, defeated Basil II, took Moscow, and proclaimed himself grand prince. Basil rounded up an army, and Yuri surrendered Moscow without a fight. Then Yuri rounded up his forces and those of his three sons and defeated Basil II at Rostov, and Basil fled to Novgorod. Yuri took Moscow, but died. This should have ended the civil war, but it was continued by his sons, who had no "legitimate" claims to the throne whatsoever. Basil Yurievich seized the throne and was crowned. His two brothers, Dmitry Krasny and Dmitry Shemyaka, opposed him and joined Basil II, and Basil Yurievich fled. He and his army looted everything along the way, as was the practice throughout the civil war. Then civil war spread throughout nearly all of northeastern Rus. In 1436 Basil Yurievich was captured and blinded, hence his nickname "Kosoi" ("squint"). Dmitry Shemyaka took over leadership of the rebels. The Mongol-Tatars joined the fray, plundering and burning everything in their wake. On July 7, 1445, they captured Basil II, and a week later they burned the Kremlin. Shemyaka wanted Basil II turned over to him, but the Tatars freed him for an enormous ransom, 200,000 silver rubles, in October. The taxes raised to pay the ransom caused further chaos and population dislocation.

This led to the third and worst period of the civil war. Shemiaka and his allies continuously fought Basil II and sacked every place they visited. Basil II was seized by his enemies at the Trinity Sergiev monastery and blinded (henceforth called temny "the dark"). While this was going on, Shemyaka seized Moscow and became grand prince in 1446. The treasury was looted, and the peasants, even more oppressed than they had been, fled further. Crops were destroyed by the marauding armies, and starvation ensued. Grain was scarce in Novgorod for a decade. Shemyaka, condemned as an oathbreaker by the church, was soon driven out of Moscow. He continued the war for several years in the North (Ustiug, Vologda), then fled to Novgorod, where he was poisoned by his cook, an agent of Basil II.

The Venetian diplomat, merchant, and traveler Josaphat Barbaro observed that Russia was a desert. In an attempt to assure repayment of peasant debts, a few monasteries persuaded rulers to issue laws prohibiting peasant debtors from moving at any time other than around St. George's Day (November 26)after the harvest, the best time to collect debts. This initiated the enserfment of the Russian peasantry.

See also: basil i; basil ii; boyars; donskoy, dmitry ivanovich; kremlin


Alef, Gustave. (1956). "A History of the Muscovite Civil War: The Reign of Vasilii II (142562)." Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.

Hellie, Richard. (1971). The Enserfment of the Russian Peasantry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hellie, Richard. (1971). Muscovite Society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Syllabus Division, 1967, 1970.

Richard Hellie

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Civil War


Civil war exists when two or more opposing parties within a country resort to arms to settle a conflict or when a substantial portion of the population takes up arms against the legitimate government of a country. Within international law distinctions are drawn between minor conflicts like riots, where order is restored promptly, and full-scale insurrections finding opposing parties in political as well as military control over different areas. When an internal

conflict reaches sufficient proportions that the interests of other countries are affected, outside states may recognize a state of insurgency. A recognition of insurgency, whether formal or de facto, indicates that the recognizing state regards the insurgents as proper contestants for legitimate power. Although the precise status of insurgents under international law is not well-defined, recognized insurgents traditionally gain the protection afforded soldiers under international rules of law pertaining to war. A state may also decide to recognize the contending group as a belligerent, a status that invokes more well-defined rights and responsibilities. Once recognized as a belligerent party, that party obtains the rights of a belligerent party in a public war, or war between opposing states. The belligerents stand on a par with the parent state in the conduct and settlement of the conflict. In addition, states recognizing the insurgents as belligerents must assume the duties of neutrality toward the conflict.


U.S. Civil War; War.

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civil war

civ·il war • n. a war between citizens of the same country.

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civil war (in Roman history)

civil war, in Roman history: see Marius and Sulla; Pompey and Julius Caesar.

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