United States and the Russian Revolution

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American involvement in the Russian Revolution was the key event that pitted the United States and the Soviet Union against each other for the next seventy years. It was the foundation for a face off between the two nations that would emerge as the world's superpowers.

Direct Intervention[edit]

The United States responded to the revolution by participating in the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War with the Allies of World War I in support of the White movement. The United States withheld diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union until 1933. [1]

Decision to Intervene[edit]

As President Woodrow Wilson was known for his non-interventionist mindset, he was reluctant to join Great Britain and France in their endeavors in Russia. Eventually, under his Aide Memoire, Wilson officially entered the United States into the Allied Intervention in Russia. In his doctrine, Wilson called on several reasons behind his decision to intervene: to facilitate the safe exit of a stranded Czech Legion from Russia, to safeguard allied military stores located in northern Russia, to put pressure on the Germans with the potential of an eastern front, and to facilitate self-determination with the hope of the creation of a democratic Russia. As Wilsonianism, or Wilsonian Idealism, was prevalent in Wilson's actions with the Mexican Revolution and the creation of the League of Nations, American intervention consisted of idealistic features as Wilson preferred the creation of a democratic government in Russia. This was seen when American troops, specifically the 339th Infantry Regiment, found themselves in routine engagements with Bolshevik forces in an effort to support Russian revolutionaries.[1]

Military Action[edit]

Following Wilson's decision, the 339th Infantry Regiment was mobilized and sent to Archangel, with a brief stop in England. Under British leadership, Generals F.C. Poole and Edmund Ironside, the 339th was tasked with operations on a railroad between Archangel and Lake Onega, including surrounding towns. The allied contingent found little success as fronts were stretched so wide that lines of communications and supply were difficult to procure. Before American forces withdrew from Archangel on June 7, 1919, 222 soldiers of its 5,000 man force were killed.[2]

Domestic response[edit]

Inevitably, Americans became concerned about Bolshevism in the United States. Many[who?] viewed labor unions as the primary method by which radicals acted in American society. Cries for action against such radicals reached their peak after Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer's home was bombed and numerous bombs intended for other government officials were intercepted [2]. Terror and outrage, remembered as the Red Scare, swept the country. Riots broke out in cities across the country against the Union of Russian Workers and other organizations that the public believed to be filled with Communist conspirators. In response to these riots, Palmer created the General Intelligence Division in the Justice Department. J. Edgar Hoover was selected as the leader of this new division that would investigate the identities and actions of suspected revolutionaries. Palmer [3], who was still not convinced of Bolshevik responsibility, was highly criticized for a lack of definitive action. However, once he believed the country to be in danger of a revolution, Palmer acted decisively. After meeting with his advisors, he decided that the most appropriate action was mass arrests and deportation of foreign radicals. It was on this premise that he ordered the first of the Palmer Raids. In these raids, Hoover and his agency orchestrated a series of massive dragnets and the simultaneous arrests of suspected revolutionaries in multiple cities. During these raids, many suspects were arrested without warrants and suffered from physical injuries incurred from the raiding forces.[citation needed] These abuses of civil liberties were overlooked by the public who enthusiastically backed Palmer and Hoover. They conducted these raids with the mindset that Constitutional Rights were a necessary sacrifice in order to preserve the Government of the United States.[citation needed] Amid these raids, there was still little evidence that the Communists were even involved in the bombings or labor strikes, and many of those arrested were released because of lack of evidence. [4] It was not until men such as Francis Fisher Kane, a member of the Justice Department, and Lewis F. Post, Acting Secretary, exposed the violation of civil liberties that the public began to question the actions of the Palmer Raids. With the economy stable once again and no violent anarchist acts since the bombing of Palmer's home, the public began to criticize Palmer once again for these violations. The Red Scare was coming to an end.[citation needed]

Cold War Implications[edit]

Once Americans left Archangel in 1919, distrust grew between communist Russia and democratic America as the twentieth century developed. At the height of the Cold War, Nikita Kruschev recalled America’s Russian Expedition by saying “We remember the grim days when American soldiers went to our soldiers headed by their generals…Never have any of our soldiers been on American soil, but your soldiers were on Russian soil. These are facts.”[2] The creation of the Cold War evolved out of World War II, but American intervention in the Russian Revolution created a sentiment between the United States and USSR that either communism or democracy should prevail.


The results of U.S. action toward the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union created an anti-Soviet attitude in America. This attitude, along with the Soviet's anti-capitalism ideals, created a hostility that would remain strong throughout the rest of the century. World War II proved to be the high point of Soviet-U.S. relations, which would quickly drop off after the war. Journalist Harry Schwartz sums it up in his article in the July 7, 1963 New York Times: "Soviet-United States relations since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution have gone through almost all possible phases from warm comradeship in arms to the deepest hostility".


  1. ^ "Prologue: Current Issue". National Archives. 2016-08-15. Retrieved 2016-12-07. 
  2. ^ a b Rhodes, Benjamin (1986). The Anglo-American Intervention at Archangel, 1918-1919: The Roles of the 339th Infantry. The International History Review, Vol. 8, No. 3: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. pp. 367–388 – via JSTOR.