Red Army: Have You Volunteered?

Recruiting poster for the Red Army

Recruiting poster for the Red Army

In January 1918, the Worker-Peasant Red Army was created under Lenin and his government, The Council of People’s Commissar. Instead of using a draft, the Red Army started with peasant and worker volunteers, who were people Lenin felt were best to defend his government. This army also included former tsarist officers, because the man that constructed this new Red Army felt that they would be helpful in their success as an army because of their loyalty to Russia. They later created a training program and abandoned the volunteer motto, creating more efficient military units.

Red Army defending the Russian border.

Red Army defending the Russian border.

The Red Army’s numbers went from 700,000 to 3 million, which was partly the result of what was offered to those that served. While the soldiers did receive pay, a bigger incentive was the promise that their families would have rations and help with farming while the soldiers were gone. The Red Army also offered literacy and politics classes, which would have been a big incentive for the peasants who otherwise wouldn’t have had such an opportunity.

The victorious Red Army

The victorious Red Army

With the Red Army under Lenin, those opposed to communism were called the Whites, leading to a civil war in Russia between the two. An advantage of the Red Army was that they were more unified, while the Whites were split between various groups who opposed him and spread farther apart geographically, making it difficult to unite. Another advantage Lenin had was that he was in control of significant cities, both Moscow and Petrograd, which aided in their ending success of the civil war. The significance of this win was that it made the Red Army the “largest, most important institution in the new state” (Freeze, 300). This left the army as not only the state’s military force, but also influenced the government into a military-administrative state (Freeze, 300).


“Dmitrii Moor: Have You Volunteered? (1920)” image source: I. I. Kuptsov: Idushchie vperedi. Moscow: Sovetskii khudozhnik. 1987.

“Dmitrii Moor: Be on Guard! (1920)” image source: Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis, Paul Paret:Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution from the Hoover Institution Archives. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1992.

“A. (Skif) Apsit: Long Live the Three-million Man Red Army! (1919)” image source: Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis, Paul Paret:Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution from the Hoover Institution Archives. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1992.

“Russia 1918-1921.” History Learning, accessed September 13, 2014. Site.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “1917: Red Guard into Army.” 17 Moments in Soviet History, accessed September 13, 2014.

12 thoughts on “Red Army: Have You Volunteered?

  1. At first I was surprised that the Red Army received so many volunteers, until I saw troops received pay and other rations. I had no idea the they provided so many incentives to peasant families; even something as simple as literacy classes would have been huge.

  2. Incentives to an extremely poor population that was willing to volunteer was definitely the right move by the Red Army. Past Russian armed forces were treated poorly and were abused by their negligent commanders in both the Russo-Japanese War and WWI; for it to actually be beneficial for a soldier to be in the army, rather than the honor of protecting Russia, was a newly positive change.

  3. 3 million people is a TON of mouths to feed. It’s pretty impressive the Bolsheviks pulled that off. The rations probably weren’t gourmet meals and plenty of soldiers were probably hungry at times; however, feeding 3 million people plus looking after their families is a massive logistical effort. It’s kind of a like a trial by fire for the new Bolshevik government.

  4. I find it hard to grasp the concept of an army of 3 million people. I agree with other comments that it is extremely impressive that the Bolsheviks were able to give money, rations, education, and farming help to that many people AND their families. This was a very good strategy to get more volunteers, as you point out, since many peasants and farmers would not have a chance at an education otherwise. Good post!

  5. In a time of starvation and poverty theres no wonder so many were on board. If their families were promised food and money it would be selfish not to be in the military. In some cases i feel shore it was a life or death decision since food was so scarce and expensive.

  6. Great post. I always wondered how the Bolsheviks were able to raise an army and defeat the whites, and now I know. The incentives that Lenin came up with to encourage people to join were genius. He knew exactly what the Russian peasants and workers wanted and took advantage of that. The fact that the Bolsheviks managed to keep a 700,000 person army, let alone a 3 million person army supplied is extremely impressive. The only way I could see them pulling this off is if they had been training logistic personnel before the revolution and civil war began. The largest military in the world in 2014 is the Chinese army with 2.2 million active duty military personnel and I feel like they probably wouldn’t have an easy time keeping their military supplied in war even with all the technology they have today.

    One thing I was wondering, was if someone other than Lenin, like Stalin, had been in charge of the Bolsheviks would they have used the same strategy to raise and army, and if not, would they have been able to successfully raise an army and win the civil war?

  7. Well that is good to know. I didn’t know there was a “white” army, let alone struggle militarily against the Red Army and the soviets. I would have liked to know more about the battles that took place between both sides, but overall a very good post that leads to more questions about what kind of resistance existed between Lenin’s Red Army and the White Army.

  8. I really liked this post. I didn’t know what the Red army was like when it was first created and it gave good insight into the incentives of joining the Red army. I wish that it was a little more detailed so that we could have read what the soldiers’ lives were like and other interesting facts. I didn’t know if you came across anything like that in your research. If you did, i would like to check out the link.

  9. Whenever I pictured the Red Army in my mind, I always imagined your everyday Russian who lacked any knowledge of fighting at all. I found this post enlightening as Lenin made sure the soldiers received an education. It was also very wise of Lenin to promise the soldiers food rations for their families because at the time food was in great scarcity.

  10. Although I am a firm non-believer in communism, I think it was great the Lenin was working to educate the lower classes. This was a good move for him, because if he educated the lower classes while they still liked communism, then they won’t be so likely to switch sides when communism starts to not work so well. No better way to do this then make them die for the cause.

  11. I really liked the post and all of its graphics. The Red Army was definitely one of the best recruiters/marketers of their time. Gaining that many soldiers in that amount of time is impressive.

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