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 Russia Russian Provisional Government
Russia 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: Красная гвардия) were paramilitary volunteer formations consisting mainly of factory workers, peasants, cossacks and partially of soldiers and sailors for "protection of the Soviet power". Red Guards were a transitional military force of the collapsing Imperial Russian Army and the base formations of Bolsheviks during the October Revolution and the first months of the Civil War. Most of them were formed in the time frame of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and some of the units were reorganized into the Red Army during 1918. The Red Guards formations were organized across most of the former 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

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:

The lack is not in the "new motives", esteemed Manilovs, but in the military force, in the military force of revolutionary people (not people in general) that stands 1) in the armed proletariat and peasantry, 2) in the organized frontline formations out of representatives of those classes, 3) in the ready to side with people military formations. Taken all together, this is a revolutionary army.
Vladimir Lenin, "Last word of "Iskra" tactics..."[1]

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 Bureau of the Central Committee of the RSDRP(b) published a resolution "About the Provisional Government" since then the term, Red Guards, received the widest usage. The biggest centralized Red Guards formations were created in Petrograd and Moscow. Soon thereafter series attempts took place to legalize those formations. On April 14, 1917 the Moscow Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) (RSDLP(b)) adopted a resolution for creation of its Red Guard. On April 17 in Petrograd the council of workers' squads representatives created a commission for formation of workers' guards and on April 29 in the Pravda newspaper has appeared a draft of its statute. The Vyborg raion (district) council of 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 April 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 Soviets, Bolshevik party units or other public organizations. The military training of workers was often performed without disengagement from the work at plants. There were both infantry and mounted regiments. At different places the organization was nonuniform in terms of subordination, head count, degree of military training. This state was often called "half-partisan". While successful at local conflicts (e.g., with ataman Alexander Dutov in Orenburg guberniya), this loose organization was inefficient when combating larger, organized forces of the 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.

Further reading

First Person accounts of the revolution:



  1. Lenin, V. Last word of "Iskra" tactics.... Proletriy N21. 1905-10-17
  2. Beatty, Bessie (1918). The Red Heart of Russia. New York: Century.
  3. Williams, Albert Rhys (1921). Through the Russian Revolution. New York: Boni and Liveright.
  4. Price, M. Phillips (1921). My Reminiscences of the Russian Revolution. London: G. Allen & Unwin.
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