A Nasty Little War: The West’s Fight to Reverse the Russian Revolution by Anna Reid - review by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield

Better Dead Than Red

A Nasty Little War: The West’s Fight to Reverse the Russian Revolution


John Murray 384pp £25

Nasty, certainly, but little? The Western intervention in the Russian Civil War, intended to reverse the Bolshevik coup, to restore Russia as an ally in the closing years of the First World War and to create an orderly state harmless to the West and its empires, lasted for four years and extended across a sixth of the earth. While far fewer troops were engaged here than on the Western Front, hundreds of thousands of British, American, French, Japanese, Czech and German soldiers were involved. As Anna Reid rightly concludes, this was a highly discreditable adventure: it stemmed from the same ignorance of the forces taking part and the territory invaded that destroyed Napoleon’s Grande Armée in 1812.

Initially there was little appetite for intervention: Russia’s withdrawal from the Allied effort in 1917 was alarming, but British and French forces could hardly have compelled a million demoralised Russian peasants to return to the slaughterhouse of the Eastern Front. In any case, the arrival of the American army in 1918 made up for the desertion of the Russians. Nevertheless, early in the intervention clumsy efforts were made by British agents, notably that loose cannon Robert Bruce Lockhart, to persuade the Bolsheviks to rejoin

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