So who were the Red Guards anyway?

That seems to be an interesting question that first formed in my mind, how did a revolution that did not have the support of the whole army defend itself? How then could that small defensive force turn into a world renowned fighting force?

The Red Guards in Russia have had a long revolutionary tradition.The first existence of the red guard were groups of volunteer armed workers’ that formed bands during and after the February Revolution by industrial workers at factories to protect and advance the interests of the industrial workers during the revolution, to maintain public safety, and to guard against counterrevolution.The Bolsheviks created this unit as “bouncers” in a sense their job at first was to maintain security for meetings of the revolutionary Factory and Plant Committees and Bolshevik party cells. Sooner than later with the growth of the party this group expanded into the disruption of groups which didn’t agree with the Bolshevik agenda.


“Long Live the Workers and Peasant Red Army – Loyal Guard of the Soviet Borders!”

Lenin wrote “There is only one way to prevent the restoration of the police, and that is to create a people’s militia and to fuse it with the army (the standing army to be replaced by the arming of the entire people).” On April 14, 1917 the  Russian Social Democratic Labour Party legalized and established the Red Guard. The Red Guard grew in size and militancy leading up to the events of the revolution and overthrowing of the Tsar as political tensions increased, the economic situation worsened.

The Red Guard was formed with a military nature and organized in such a way that would lead then to easily adapt to the organizational structure of an army interestingly enough. “The Red Guards then gave themselves a constitution of a purely military nature, which divided them into decads, corporals’ squads, companies, etc.,  The smallest fighting unit of the Red Guard was the decad, which consisted of 13 men. Four decads formed a corporal’s squad (53 men), three corporals’ squads a company (160 men), three companies a battalion, consisting of 480 men, plus technical units which made the total strength from 500 to 600; all the battalions of a district formed the district division, which, if numerous enough, was subdivided into regiments.”


Early Red Guard

At the occurrence of the October Revolution, the  Red Guards had between 150,000-200,000 personnel. The Red Guard played a key role in many of the large cities securing vital depots and governmental buildings in the name of the new Soviet government. After the revolution, the Red Guards performed many of the functions of the regular army and the police, but one one of their key roles was in the demobilizing of the old Russian military. In January of 1918 the provisional government established the Red army incorporating the Red Guard. Leon Trotsky People’s Commissar for War was appointed and entrusting with the task of organizing and directing the armed forces, this new army consisted mostly of a rag-tag of peasants who were under-trained and inadequately equipped. This new force was really no match for the Soviets enemies and thus had to be supplemented with regular troops and officers(would control 80%) to balance out the equation.

The new Russian government under Lenin would surrender to the Germans with harsh terms, thus giving huge concessions for peace. Though this freed up the greater part of this new military to counter the “White Movement” (anti-Communist force that fought the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War (1917–1923) and which the remnants would continue to fight until the end of WW2). This gave the necessary boost to defeat this counter-revolution and give the necessary confidence to the newly born Red Army. The reason for victory belonged to Trotsky- he would promote those who came out victorious and was not afraid to use ex-Tsarists. He was also a great logistics commander getting the necessary food and whatever supplies to the troops.

The Red Army would eventually grow into the national army of the USSR and in 1946, after the Second World War, it would be renamed  the Soviet Army.

So with the rise of the Nazis it is interesting that they copied in a sense the rise of the red guard if you think about it- the red guard were first men protecting the party meetings, protecting party events, were formed into groups and trained, later became the defensive force of the party, and lastly became the army. Much of Germany’s rise of the Nazi party can be seen in the same manner of the Soviet rise?


WADE, REX A.. “Red Guards. Encyclopedia of Russian History. 2004. 15 Sep. 2013 <>.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “1917: Red Guard into Army.” Seventeen Movements in Russian History. National Endowment for Humanities, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. <>.

Wollenberg, Erich. “The Red Army.” Red Army: The Birth Of The Red Army. Marxist Internat Archive, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013. <>.









  • carlin says:

    This post was really great because I wasn’t sure of the scope of the Red Army while doing the reading. I find it interesting to learn the Red Army developed outside of the Russian Army as a militia. This shows how the Russian Army was collapsing and new forms of security were enforced by Lenin (a smart man in this respect). I also think the success of the Red Army can be connected to another post: Order 1 effectively catalyzed the dismantling of the Russian Army, perhaps opening the door for the Red Army to take control. Great post!

  • seeingred says:

    I never gave much thought to the initial size of the Red Army, but when you compare the size from the February to the October Revolution the change is astounding. The numbers did indeed rise very quickly, however, it makes sense because this army of the people were fueled by the frustrations in February and caused mass amounts of citizens to join the movement. It’s also a surprise to read about how different the roles of the members of the Red Guard were in that they transformed from virtual “bouncers” to a full fledged military arm of the Bolsheviks.

  • Ben Wolfenstein says:

    I wrote about Kornilov and his effect on the Red Guard and how they used that as a launching point for their further success. This post let me know more than that first confrontation, I didn’t know about the groups birth and its transition into the Red Army. One thing missing from the subject is Trotsky’s loss of power, but that’s an issue that needs it’s own post. The Soviet Union wouldn’t have even come into existence without the soviets use of the Red Guard and it is important to know who they were.

  • brandonlapointe says:

    The growth you pointed out here is impressive. I’m impressed at how fast numbers rose, and how important an originally volunteer based set of people would become! Very well laid out, and I really like the fact that you didn’t just stop with the 1917 Revolution, but actually covered the materials all the way to WWII.

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