Book Review: The White Generals

The White Generals:  An Account Of The White Movement And The Russian Civil War, by Richard Luckett

Any time we deal with the past there is the question of the inevitability of the past.  In retrospect, we know that the Reds won and it is clear that they had some advantages that they used to their benefit, such as interior lines and a political agenda that they were able to disguise in order to avoid antagonizing unnecessary enemies until they consolidated power and it scarcely mattered.  What the author does is present the Russian Civil War from the point of view of the Whites, and for those of us have that strong counter-revolutionary inclinations in revolutionary times, it offers some object lessons that can be used in tandem with a study of other revolutions so as to note how it is that counter-revolutions succeed and how it is that they fail.  And the Russian Civil War provides plenty of object lessons into how it is that future anti-Communist forces can do better, as it could have been possible for the Whites to win had they not made some very serious and very (in retrospect and at the time) lamentable mistakes.

This book is almost 400 pages long and is divided into eighteen chapters and organized in a chronological fashion.  The book begins with a preface and discusses the first white general and then discusses the origins of the counter-revolution in 1917 with a look at the Imperial Russian army before 1917 (1), the abdication of the czar (2), the army and its relationship with Karensky’s provisional government (3), the Kornilov movement (4), and the headquarters on the Don (5).  After that the author examines the time of troubles in 1918 with a discussion of the campaign through the ice (6), the Finnish victory under Mannerheim (7), the relationship between the Germans, Czechs, Cossacks, and allies (8), the conquest of the Kuban by Deniken (9), the Northern diversion caused by British intervention (10), and the struggle to define the supreme ruler of all the Russians (11).  After that the author discusses 1919 in a seasonal view starting with the view from the center (12), then the spring (13), summer (14), autumn and winter (15).  After that the author discusses the failure of the White army in 1920 with defeat (16), Wrangel’s Crimean bastion (17), and the last stand of the whites (18), after which there is a conclusion of the reckoning as well as a bibliography and index.

In reading this particular book it is clear that a lot of mistakes could be learned by future (present) counter-revolutionaries, and it is worth spelling them out.  For one, counter revolutionary efforts need to be united, as they were in Finland and Spain, and not disastrously divided as they were here.  Likewise, it is not worth alienating potential allies by making one’s post-revolutionary plans obvious; instead, build a victorious coalition and decide the postwar picture after one has won the civil war in the present.  Likewise, being able to take advantage of external support while not becoming grifters, and making sure to avoid no purposeless violence (although counter-revolutionary terror may be necessary to clean up corrupt populations one has conquered) are vital lessons.  When one is fighting an enemy with interior lines and that has superior numbers, one has to be able to know that one has secure bases that one has established rule in so that one can make gains and use one’s advantages to the best benefit.  The White Russians appear to have frittered away their early advantages in discipline and failed to unify or build a solid political program in many areas (except Finland) and found themselves overwhelmed when the Red armies were able to knock them out individually while they were unable to properly coordinate with each other.  That is to be lamented, but also learned from.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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