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Red Guards (Russia)

Red Guards
Russian: Красная гвардия
Participant in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and Russian Civil War
Red flags were used by guards in several modifications and variations
Active 1917–18
(became core units of the Red Army)
Ideology Communism
Leaders RSDLP(b) and Soviets
Headquarters every major city
Area of operations Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and Russian Republic
Part of Red Army (since Jan 1918)
Allies several communist states
Opponents Russian Provisional Government
White Movement
Pro-independence movements in Russian Civil War
Battles and wars October Revolution
Russian Civil War
Red guard unit of the Vulkan factory. 1917.

Red Guards (Russian Empire, including territories outside of the contemporary Russian Federation such as Finland, Estonia, Ukraine, others. They were not centralized and were formed by decision of a local party and Soviet authorities.


  • General outlook 1
  • Creation 2
  • Organization 3
  • Invasion of Ukraine 4
  • Dispersal of Red Guards 5
  • Further reading 6
  • References 7

General outlook

Composing the majority of the urban population, they were the main strike force of several radically oriented socialist political factions. Red Guard units were created in March 1917 at manufacturing companies by Factory and Plant Committees and by some communist-inclined party cells (Bolsheviks, Left Socialist Revolutionaries, others). The Red Guards formations were based on the workers strike forces of the Russian Revolution of 1905. Lenin gave a following evaluation of the phenomenon:

A number of other militarized formations created during the February Revolution, such as "people's militia" (народная милиция), created by the Russian Provisional Government, "squads of self-defence" (отряды самообороны), "committees of public security" (комитеты общественной безопасности), "workers' squads" (рабочие дружины) were gradually unified into the Red Guards.

The Red Guards refused to acknowledge any form of central government that had too much power. They refused to follow the Soviet Executive because they felt the group would later serve anti-revolutionary groups.


On March 26, 1917 the Petrograd on April 28 declared to transform the squads of workers' and factory militia into the Red Guard squads. On May 17 the Samara council of workers' representatives (deputies) at its session established a commission in creation of Red Guard squads. A big role in creation of the Red Guard squads played the Factory committees. Before the April of 1917 seventeen Russian cities have created Red Guard squads which by the June increased in numbers to 24.

Red Guards were the base for the forming of the Red Army. Therefore the term is often used as just another English name for the Red Army in reference to the times of the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War.

In Petrograd, the head of the Red Guards (30,000 personnel) was Konstantin Yurenev. At the moment of the October Revolution, the Russian Red Guards had 200,000 personnel. After the revolution, the Red Guards performed some of the function of the regular army between the time the new Soviet government began demobilizing the old Russian military and the time the Red Army was created in January 1918.


During the revolution, training of the Red Guards was arranged by the Military Organization of the RSDLP.

Enlistment was voluntary, but required recommendations from White Army. Therefore when the creation of the Red Army was decreed, Red Guards had become the Army Reserve and the base for the formation of regular military detachments.

Invasion of Ukraine

A portion of the Red Guard’s forces moved their way into Ukraine to “liberate” the people. The Red Guards worked alongside the Baltic Sailors in this assault. The portion of the Red Guards that were invading Ukraine were unorganized and had not made proper food supply lines. After they had invaded Ukraine their food ran out and they started pillaging the villages for food. This gave the Germans more reason to invade and use their own form of justice.

Dispersal of Red Guards

The Red Guards were still present when the Red Army was being formed. The Red Guards fought alongside the members of the Red Army but were not part of the Red Army. The Red Guards were not as well trained as the fighters of the Red Army and when both groups would go into engagements the Red Guards would position themselves so that the Red Army was in the position at the most risk. The Red Army finally demanded the Red Guards to submit to the Red Army and be absorbed into their ranks. This was what largely caused the Red Guards to disappear.

Further reading

  • Eduard Martynovich Dune, Notes of a Red Guard Translated by D. Koenker, S. A. Smith (1993) U. Illinois Press ISBN 978-0-252-06277-3
  • Rex A. Wade, Red guards and workers' militias in the Russian Revolution (1984) Stanford U. Press ISBN 0-8047-1167-4

First Person accounts of the revolution:

  • Beatty, Bessie. The Red Heart of Russia. New York: Century, 1918.[2]
  • Williams, Albert Rhys. Through the Russian Revolution. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1921.[3]


  1. ^ . Proletriy N21. 1905-10-17Last word of "Iskra" tactics...Lenin, V.
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