The Red Terror and the Military

V. I. Lenin, 1918.

What was the red terror and why did it come about?

  • A campaign of mass killings, torture, and systematic oppression conducted by the Bolsheviks after their seizure of power. Widely attributed to the attempted assassination on Lenin in the summer of 1918.
  • The Cheka were the secret police, they diversified to a broader security police force in 1918. The change in the duties of the Cheka, and the move to violence, can be seen in these two sources:

Red terror within the military

  • Lenin realised the necessity of terror before it became legalised- necessary to keep the army until control. Did not agree with the abolition of the Kerensky decree.
  • Targeted specific groups such as ex-Tsarist officers serving in the Red Army. Used in the guise of ‘military specialists’ with about 15,000-20,000 ex-Tsarist officers constituting 75% of officer core in Red Army in 1918. To maintain control over the officers terror was used against them.
  • Red army faced huge problems during the civil war- desertion, ill-discipline, supply issues etc. Terror used to impose discipline after emerging out of the chaos of 1917.

Red terror used for military objectives

  • Terror used to defeat the Whites, and other enemy groups, to enforce the grain requisitioning policy necessary to feed to army, to ensure the support of the population even if it was forced.

Below is a link to a powerpoint that explains everything in more depth:

Red Terror and the Military


2 thoughts on “The Red Terror and the Military

  1. Bill

    Dear Sir,

    I read some of your historical essays on Soviet history and I like your writing style. It’s factual and engaging while understandable to someone who is not an historian.

    I am in the process of building a website catalog for my collection of 600 Soviet-era posters and I am looking for writers who are good at condensing Soviet and Russian history for ‘internet focused’ audiences. As you appear to recognize with your blog, long-form essays (as in university journals) don’t work for online reading. They are too verbose and they are meant to be more peer-oriented than public friendly. The site I am building will be partly art gallery, in terms of the collection, yet I want it to have a reasonable degree of historical relevance so the collection might be taken seriously by academics. In fact, it would be my hope that historians like you would come and write short essays about some of the posters over an on-going time.

    I am now writing all the copy for the site but I am looking for help with some extra writing assistance to answer the historical questions that come up with many of these posters. Civil War posters, Five Year Plan posters, World War II posters and so on, all should be explained as to how they fit into the equation of the vast historical memory of the U.S.S.R. While my background is in history I am not a Russian historian, thus, my reason to reach out to you for potential assistance.

    Let me know your interest and, let me know if you are situated at home. Your most recent post in January said you’d be away for six months. Kindly Yours, –Bill


    1. Hi Bill,

      This sounds interesting. I have returned from my travels and would potentially be interested in helping you with some writing – would you be able to provide anymore information e.g. length of writing you would be after, deadlines, frequency you would require. I must add that I am not what you would consider a “proper historian” however I do have a history degree and a large part of that was focused on Soviet history.

      Thank you.


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