On October 25, 1917 (O.S.), immediately after the Russian Provisional Government was overthrown during the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin established the Soviet state. It had no name until January 25, 1918, when it became the Soviet Russian Republic. On July 10, 1918, the new Russian Constitution renamed the country the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (Российская Советская Федеративная Социалистическая Республика — Rossiyskaya Sovetskaya Federativnaya Sotsialisticheskaya Respublika), also known as the Russian SFSR or RSFSR and unofficially as the Russian Federation, Soviet Russia or simply Russia (Росси́я — Rossija), It was an independent state from 1917 until it signed the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR on December 30, 1922. The Russian SFSR was the largest, most populous, and most economically developed union republic of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1991 and then a sovereign part of the Soviet Union with priority of Russian laws over Union-level legislation in 1990–91. The Republic comprised sixteen autonomous republics, five autonomous oblasts, ten autonomous okrugs, six krais, and forty oblasts. Russians formed the largest ethnic group. The capital of the Russian SFSR was Moscow and the other major urban centers included Leningrad, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara.
Following the stabilization of its borders following World War II, the RSFSR had a total of 6,612,100 square miles (17,125,200 square kilometers) and was the largest of the Soviet Union’s fifteen republics, with its southerly neighbor, the Kazakh SSR, being second. The international borders of the RSFSR touched Poland on the west; Norway and Finland on the northwest; and to its southeast were Korea, Mongolia and China. Within the Soviet Union, the RSFSR was to border the Ukrainian, Belarusian, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian SSRs to its west and Azerbaijan, Georgian and Kazakh SSRs to the south.
Roughly 70% of the area in the RSFSR consisted of broad plains, with mountainous tundra regions mainly concentrated in the east. The area was rich in mineral resources, including petroleum, natural gas, and iron ore.
The Soviet government first came to power on November 7, 1917, immediately after the Russian Provisional Government, which governed the Russian Republic, was overthrown in the October Revolution. The state it governed, which did not have an official name, would be unrecognized by neighboring countries for another five months.
On January 25, 1918, at the third meeting of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, the unrecognized state was renamed the Soviet Russian Republic. On March 3, 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, giving away much of the land of the former Russian Empire to Germany, in exchange for peace in World War I. On July 10, 1918, the Russian Constitution of 1918 renamed the country the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. By 1918, during the Russian Civil War, several states within the former Russian Empire had seceded, reducing the size of the country even more. The RSFSR was recognized as an independent state internationally by only Estonia, Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania, in the Treaty of Tartu in 1920.
The period that the RSFSR was an independent state was during the Russian Civil War (Гражда́нская война́ в Росси́и — Grazhdanskaya voyna v Rossiyi) which was fought between November 1917 and October 1922 immediately after the Russian Revolutions of 1917 as many factions vied to determine Russia’s political future. The two largest combatant groups were the Red Army, fighting for the Bolshevik form of socialism led by Vladimir Lenin, and the loosely allied forces known as the White Army, which included diverse interests favoring monarchism, capitalism and alternative forms of socialism, each with democratic and antidemocratic variants. In addition, rival militant socialists and nonideological Green armies fought against both the Bolsheviks and the Whites. There were an estimated 7,000,000–12,000,000 casualties during the war, mostly civilians. The Russian Civil War has been described by some as the greatest national catastrophe that Europe had yet seen.
In the wake of the October Revolution, the old Russian Imperial Army had been demobilized; the volunteer-based Red Guard was the Bolsheviks’ main military force, augmented by an armed military component of the Cheka, the Bolshevik state security apparatus. In January 1918, after significant reverses in combat, War Commissar Leon Trotsky headed the reorganization of the Red Guard into a Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, in order to create a more professional fighting force. Political commissars were appointed to each unit of the army to maintain morale and ensure loyalty.
In June 1918, when it became apparent that a revolutionary army composed solely of workers would be far too small, Trotsky instituted mandatory conscription of the rural peasantry into the Red Army. Opposition of rural Russians to Red Army conscription units was overcome by taking hostages and shooting them when necessary in order to force compliance, exactly the same practices used by the White Army officers. Former Tsarist officers were utilized as “military specialists” (voenspetsy), sometimes their families were taken hostage in order to ensure their loyalty. At the start of the war three-quarters of the Red Army officer corps was composed of former Tsarist officers. By its end, 83% of all Red Army divisional and corps commanders were ex-Tsarist soldiers.
The first stamps of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic were issued in 1918, as two values depicting a sword cutting the chain of bondage (Scott #149-150). While great quantities of these stamps survive, they saw little use, and used copies are worth more than mint. In the years of the Civil War, postage stamps served as a kind of currency in a number of regions. During the later famine, postage stamps were used as a means of exchange for products. The chaotic conditions of the Civil War brought the printing of stamps by the central government to a halt between 1918 and 1922. Stocks of old tsarist Arms type stamps and postal stationary remained in use, and postal savings and various revenue stamps were authorized for postal use.
During the Civil War, stamps were sold and used at different rates at different times: 1918-1920, sold at face value; from March 1920, sold at 100 times face value; from August 15, 1921, sold at 250 rubles regardless of the face value; from April 1922, sold at 10,000 rubles per 1 kopeck or 1 ruble. In October 1922, these stamps were replaced with gold currency stamps.
The Pravda newspaper issue of March 9, 1922, urged the population “not to throw away stamps” and called on all citizens and children of the RSFSR to gather and send all canceled stamps, stamp collections, and anything they had on hand to be exchanged for chocolate and other products for starving children. The next stamps appeared in 1921, after inflation had taken hold (Scott #177-186). The set’s values range from 1 to 1,000 rubles. Scott #177-180 were only sold in Petrograd (St. Petersburg’s name since the beginning of World War I in 1914), Moscow and Kharkov. Used stamps are usually found cancelled-to-order for collectors.
By the next year, these stamps were being surcharged in various ways, with face values of up to 100,000 rubles. A currency reform in 1922 that exchanged money at a 10,000-to-1 rate enabled new stamps in the 5-ruble to 200-ruble range, including a set marking the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution (Scott #211-215), Tsarist stamps were surcharged with a five-pointed star containing a hammer and sickle (Scott #216-229). Stamps with portraits of a worker, peasant and soldier also appeared this year (Scott #230-237); variations on these portrait designs, including the Gold Standard issue and issues of the USSR, would continue to be issued throughout the 1920s.
In the European part of Russia the war was fought across three main fronts: the eastern, the southern and the northwestern. It can also be roughly split into the following periods.
The first period lasted from the Revolution until the Armistice. Already on the date of the Revolution, Cossack General Kaledin refused to recognize it and assumed full governmental authority in the Don region, where the Volunteer Army began amassing support. The signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk also resulted in direct Allied intervention in Russia and the arming of military forces opposed to the Bolshevik government. There were also many German commanders who offered support against the Bolsheviks, fearing a confrontation with them was impending as well.
During this first period the Bolsheviks took control of Central Asia out of the hands of the Provisional Government and White Army, setting up a base for the Communist Party in the Steppe and Turkestan, where nearly two million Russian settlers were located.
Most of the fighting in this first period was sporadic, involving only small groups amid a fluid and rapidly shifting strategic scene. Among the antagonists were the Czechs, known as the Czechoslovak Legion or “White Czechs”, the Poles of the Polish 5th Rifle Division and the pro-Bolshevik Red Latvian riflemen.
The second period of the war lasted from January to November 1919. At first, the White armies’ advances from the south (under General Denikin), the east (under Admiral Kolchak) and the northwest (under General Yudenich) were successful, forcing the Red Army and its allies back on all three fronts. In July 1919, the Red Army suffered another reverse after a mass defection of units in the Crimea to the anarchist Black Army under Nestor Makhno, enabling anarchist forces to consolidate power in Ukraine. Leon Trotsky soon reformed the Red Army, concluding the first of two military alliances with the anarchists. In June the Red Army first checked Kolchak’s advance. After a series of engagements, assisted by a Black Army offensive against White supply lines, the Red Army defeated Denikin’s and Yudenich’s armies in October and November.
The third period of the war was the extended siege of the last White forces in the Crimea. General Wrangel had gathered the remnants of Denikin’s armies, occupying much of the Crimea. An attempted invasion of southern Ukraine was rebuffed by the anarchist Black Army under the command of Nestor Makhno. Pursued into the Crimea by Makhno’s troops, Wrangel went over to the defensive in the Crimea. After an abortive move north against the Red Army, Wrangel’s troops were forced south by Red Army and Black Army forces; Wrangel was forced to retreat to the Crimea in November 1920 pursued by both the Red and Black cavalry and infantry. Wrangel and the remains of his army were evacuated from the Crimea to Constantinople on November 14, 1920. Thus ended the struggle of Reds and Whites in Southern Russia.
After the defeat of Wrangel, the Red Army immediately repudiated its 1920 treaty of alliance with Nestor Makhno and attacked the anarchist Black Army; the campaign to liquidate Makhno and the Ukrainian anarchists began with an attempted assassination of Makhno by Cheka agents. Angered by continued repression by the Bolshevik Communist government and its liberal use of the Cheka to put down anarchist elements, a naval mutiny erupted at Kronstadt, followed by peasant revolts. Red Army attacks on the anarchist forces and their sympathizers increased in ferocity throughout 1921.
In Siberia, Admiral Kolchak’s army had disintegrated. He himself gave up command after the loss of Omsk and designated General Grigory Semyonov as the new leader of the White Army in Siberia. Not long after this, Kolchak was arrested by the disaffected Czechoslovak Corps as he traveled towards Irkutsk without the protection of the army, and turned over to the socialist Political Centre in Irkutsk. Six days later this regime was replaced by a Bolshevik-dominated Military-Revolutionary Committee. On February 6-7, 1920, Kolchak and his prime minister Victor Pepelyaev were shot and their bodies thrown through the ice of the frozen Angara River, just before the arrival of the White Army in the area.
Remnants of Kolchak’s army reached Transbaikalia and joined Semyonov’s troops, forming the Far Eastern Army. With the support of the Japanese army, it was able to hold Chita, but after withdrawal of Japanese soldiers from Transbaikalia, Semenov’s position became untenable, and in November 1920 he was driven by the Red Army from Transbaikalia and took refuge in China. The Japanese, who had plans to annex the Amur Krai, finally pulled their troops out as Bolshevik forces gradually asserted control over the Russian Far East. On October 25, 1922, Vladivostok fell to the Red Army, and the Provisional Priamur Government was extinguished.
On December 30, 1922, the First Congress of the Soviets of the USSR approved the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR, by which Russia was united with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, and Transcaucasian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic into a single federal state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Союз Советских Социалистических Республик — Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik), also known as the Soviet Union.
In central Asia Red Army troops continued to face resistance into 1923, where basmachi (armed bands of Islamic guerrillas) had formed to fight the Bolshevik takeover. The Soviets engaged non-Russian peoples in Central Asia, like Magaza Masanchi, commander of the Dungan Cavalry Regiment, to fight against the Basmachis. The Communist Party did not completely dismantle this group until 1934.
General Anatoly Pepelyayev continued armed resistance in the Ayano-Maysky District until June 1923. The regions of Kamchatka and Northern Sakhalin remained under Japanese occupation until their treaty with the Soviet Union in 1925, when their forces were finally withdrawn.
Scott #149 was the first stamp released by what would become the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. The 35-kopeck blue stamp portraying a sword cutting the chain of bondage was printed using typopgraphy and perforated 13½. It is also known imperforate. In 1922, the stamp was overprinted and surcharged to raise funds for Volga famine relief (Scott #B21-23); the overprints and surcharges were made in black, orange or red ink. It was also overprinted and surcharged to pay importation and exportation taxes (unlisted by Scott, but there is a notification explaining this usage). Finally, in 1924-1925, the stamp received overprints and surcharges for usage as postage due stamps for the USSR (Scott #J1-5 and #J7-9).