So, who were the Red Guards, anyway?
Red Guards (Красная Гвардия) were groups of armed workers formed in the time of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Very quickly they became the violent strike force of the Bolsheviks.
They were created by the leaders of the Bolsheviks as “bouncers” or so-called security for meetings at factories and plants. Their job at first was to maintain security for meetings of the revolutionary Factory and Plant Committees and Bolshevik party cells. It didn’t take long for party leaders to give them the duty of disruption of groups which didn’t agree with the Bolshevik agenda.
During that period other militarized groups were formed, such as “people’s militia” (народная милиция), created by the Russian Provisional Government which the Bolshevik’s eventually toppled, “groups of self-defence” (отряды самообороны), “committees of public security” (комитеты общественной безопасности), and the “workers’ squads” (рабочие дружины).
At the time of the October Revolution it is estimated that the Russian Red Guards numbered over 200,000 personnel, mostly males. Enlistment was voluntary, but required recommendations from local workers committees called “Soviets” (Soviet in Russian means “committee”), Bolshevik party units or other public organizations aligned with the Bolsheviks.
The military training of workers was often performed while workers were on duty at factories and plants, making it possible for the Bolsheviks to recruit and train an army while the trainees remained on the payroll of their private employers.
Over time after the Bolsheviks gained power these were gradually merged into the Red Guards and the enlarged organization became the base for the formation of what would become known as the Red Army.
At first these organizations were very nonuniform in terms of chain of command, rank, and subordination. The Bolsheviks soon found that this type of loose organization was ineffective when combating larger, organized forces of the White Army. When the Bolsheviks ousted the Provisional Government and created the Red Army, the Red Guard units had become the Army Reserve and the base for the formation of regular military detachments.
The Red Army (Рабоче-Крестьянская Красная Армия means “Workers’–Peasants’ Red Army” or RKKA) was the Bolshevik government’s revolutionary militia beginning in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the USSR. In 1946, after the Second World War, it was renamed as the Soviet Army (Советская Армия).
Footnote: Red Army founder Leon Trotsky, murdered in Mexico while in exile from Josef Stalin’s regime, was never formally rehabilitated by the Soviet government, despite the Glasnost-era rehabilitation of most other Old Bolsheviks killed during the Great Purges. In 1987, under President Gorbachev, Trotsky was referred to as “a hero and martyr.” His son, Sergei Sedov, killed in 1937, was rehabilitated in 1988. Nonetheless, beginning in 1989, Trotsky’s books which had been forbidden were finally published in the Soviet Union.
Trotsky’s family remains committed to Communist ideals. Trotsky’s great-granddaughter, Nora Volkow, is currently head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.