International Units of the Red Army

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

International Units of the Red Army


military units made up of volunteers—foreign workers who were in Soviet Russia and who fought in the ranks of the Red Army and partisan detachments on the fronts during the Civil War of 1918–20. On the eve of the Great October Socialist Revolution there were about 4 million foreign citizens in Russia, including more than 2 million German, Austro-Hungarian, Turkish, and Bulgarian prisoners of war, about 500,000 refugees from Austria-Hungary, Rumania, and Turkish Armenia, and at least 1.5 million immigrants and seasonal workers from such countries as Bulgaria, the Czech Lands and Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, Iran, China, and Korea. At this time more than 2 million seasonal workers, refugees, and servicemen from Poland and immigrants and seasonal workers from Finland also lived in Russia.

The overwhelming majority of the foreign citizens were from the toiling masses. Under the influence of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the shared class interests of the foreigners and the workers and peasants of Soviet Russia, and the international activities of the Bolshevik Party, a movement of international solidarity developed among the foreigners. It was manifested in the participation of hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in the struggle for Soviet power. From November 1917 to January 1918 a number of units of foreign volunteers were organized: in Petrograd, the Finnish detachment of the Red Guard; in Minsk, the Polish Revolutionary Battalion, which belonged to the Minsk Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies Rifle Regiment; and in Odessa (January 1918), two Rumanian revolutionary battalions.

Small detachments of revolutionary prisoners of war—Serbs, Croats, Hungarians, Czechs, Germans, Austrians—were formed in the Red Guard in such cities as Ekaterinoslav, Tomsk, and Tashkent. With the advice and support of V. I. Lenin, an international detachment was organized in Petrograd in February 1918 in the I Corps of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. Under a resolution of the Council of People’s Commissars, foreign volunteers entering the Red Army were granted citizenship in the RSFSR. The People’s Commissariat for War authorized the formation of national companies, squadrons, and batteries made up of nationalities that were not part of the Soviet Republic. Subsequently, these units were to be included in the regular units of the Red Army. By the summer of 1918, international units had been formed in dozens of towns and cities of the Soviet Republic, including Moscow, Petrograd, Iver’, Voronezh, Penza, Kazan, Samara, Tsaritsyn, Orenburg, and Irkutsk.

The People’s Commissariat for War established the Commission on the Formation of International Groups of the Red Army (June 1918 to March 1919), which later became the Directorate on the Formation of International Groups of the Red Army (April to September 1919). In addition, at various times special agencies worked on the formation and recruitment of Polish, Finnish, Czechoslovak, Chinese, Iranian, and other national units. Agitation and propaganda work was conducted among the foreign workers in the Soviet Republic and in the international units of the Red Army by the Central Executive Committee of the Social Democracy of the Polish Kingdom and Lithuania in Russia (later, the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Workers’ Party of Poland in Russia), the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Finland, and the Central Federation of Foreign Groups of the Central Committee of the RCP (Bolshevik), which was founded in May 1918, and its groups of Communist organizations of foreign working people (Hungarian, Czechoslovak, German, Yugoslav, Rumanian, and Bulgarian, for example), which were under the local committees of the RCP (B). Foreign Communists also did a great deal of work on the formation of international units.

In September 1919, with the approval of the Revolutionary Military Council, the Central Federation of Foreign Groups organized the Military Commission to register and recruit international units of the Red Army. (The commission functioned until May 1920.) The formation and military activity of these units were under the control of the Central Committee of the RCP (B). Lenin met and talked with the leaders of the foreign Communist organizations and international units. Speaking in Moscow at a meeting of the Warsaw Revolutionary Regiment on Aug. 2, 1918, before it moved to the front, Lenin pointed out the necessity of rallying all military forces into a powerful international Red Army.

Great assistance was given to the internationalists by Ia. M. Sverdlov, F. E. Dzerzhinskii, S. M. Kirov, E. D. Stasova, E. M. Sklianskii, N. I. Podvoiskii, and M. V. Frunze. A leading role in the formation of the international units was played by foreign internationalists, including Bela Kun (Hungarian), S. Bobiński (Polish), Vukašin Marković (Montenegran), M. Bujor (Rumanian), and S. Častek (Czech).

More than 250 international detachments, companies, battalions, and regiments were organized during the Civil War. Fighting as soldiers and commanders alongside the foreign volunteers in these units were Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Tatars, Uzbeks, and members of other nationalities of the Soviet Republic.

Approximately 250,000–300,000 foreign internationalists served at various times in the Red Army. Many international units served with distinction in battles against the counterrevolutionaries: for example, on the Eastern Front, the 216th International Regiment of the 24th Rifle Division, the 222nd Samara International Regiment of the 25th Rifle (the Chapayev) Division, the 225th Chinese Rifle Regiment of the 29th Rifle Division, the Polish Pobeda Detachment, and the Finnish Detachment. Among the outstanding international units on the Southern Front were the 2nd International Rifle Regiment of the 16th Rifle Division, the Warsaw and Lublin (Polish) Regiments of the Western Brigade, and the Yugoslav and Chinese battalions. In the Northern Caucasus, the 1st Astrakhan International Regiment fought with distinction, and on the Western Front, the 1st International Brigade and the 519th International Regiment of the 58th Rifle Division. The Northern Front’s most distinguished international unit was the 6th Finnish Rifle Regiment. Among the best units in Turkestan were the K. Liebknecht 2nd International Rifle Regiment and the 1st Turkestan International Regiment, which was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. Foreign internationalists also fought in partisan detachments and formations, particularly in Siberia and the Far East.

Many of the foreign internationalists were awarded the Order of the Red Banner for heroism and valor, including the Croatian T. Dundic, the Finn T. Antikainen, and the Chinese Chu Chin-lin. Among those who were awarded the order twice were the German A. Kampf, the Hungarian L. Gavró, and the Czech E. Kuželo. After the Civil War the international units were disbanded.

The existence of the international units and the activity of the internationalists in the Soviet state were not only an important form of help from the world proletariat to the first socialist revolution but also a remarkable school of revolutionary theory and practice for many thousands of foreign workers, who returned to their countries enriched by the experience of direct participation in the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, 3,409 of those who had participated in the Great October Socialist Revolution and the Civil War on the side of Soviet power were awarded orders and medals of the USSR. Among the recipients of honors were citizens of Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, Poland, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Austria, Finland, France, Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany, and India.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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