The Russian Revolution of 1917consisted of two revolutions, first in February, which overthrew the imperialTsarist Government.
The second one, in October, between the Reds and theWhites, which placed the Reds (Bolsheviks) in power. As result, Russia wasremoved from the war and its traditional monarchy was replaced to turn it intothe Union of Soviet Socialists Republics. The Whites’ weakness and lack ofcohesiveness was a key reason for the Reds winning the Russian Civil War, butit was the leadership of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky that ultimatelybrought the Red’s victory. The White Army seemed to have anumber of advantages in the Civil War, having control over huge areas of Russiaand having experienced military leaders could’ve given them leverage, but asthe Civil War advanced, they started to face complications in their campaign.
For example, while the Reds had Lenin as their leader, the Whites had nocohesive leadership and did not share the same belief, method or political goal.In addition, they operated on different geographical areas, with Denikin andthen Wrangel being concentrated in the south, while Admiral Kolchak was in thenorth-east and Yudenich in the west. Furthermore, the aforementioned leadersall wanted glory for themselves and often ended up competing against each other1in order to take control of Russia for personal gains. As a result, there wasalmost no cooperation between the many White Armies. They fought independentlywhich made it easier for the Red Army to defeat them one by one. TheWhites failed to gain support in the areas that they did control, behaving withgreat cruelty, doing things like looting shops and houses, as well as beingdrunk most of the time.
Their treatment of indigenous people was terrible and becausemost of the land was agricultural, these people would have been peasants – whichLenin had promised land to and because of the known re-establishment of the oldorder that the Whites wanted to impose, it did not warm them (or their ideas)to the peasants, therefore making them naturally gravitate towards theBolsheviks. Their corruption and disruptive lifestyle also played a huge role,since at some point, the heavy consumption of vodka and cocaine became aroutine, with people declaring that the White Army was characterized by”ignorance and incompetence.” Their Russian nationalism also worked againstthem at home, with General Denikin denying that Ukraine was an actual place, describingit as “Little Russia” which caused the different national groups not wanting tosupport the Whites. Their corruption and brutality meant that Whites alsobecame hated and feared, as they burned towns, destroyed or stole people’sproperty, as well as taking their crops and livestock by force and if anycivilians objected, they were to face torture and execution. TheAllies also failed to provide the help the Whites needed. Few Allied troopswere sent to Russia and none of them participated in the battles. Theircampaign suffered a massive setback when the Allies withdrew from Russia afterNovember 11th of 1918. After World War One, the Allies distancedthemselves from their relationships with the White leaders, especially after somereports that reached London mentioned the terrible things that the Whites had doneto innocent civilians, this caused the British Government not being able toafford to be associated with these actions.
The British Prime Minister at thetime, David Lloyd George, was so unwilling to fund the Whites that he declaredhe’d rather see “Russia Bolshevik than Britain bankrupt.”2In addition, their military official attached to the Whites became sodisillusioned with them, that he grew indifferent to the White fate, statingthat the cause was not “worth the life of one British soldier.” Under Lenin’s leadership, theBolsheviks displayed total ruthlessness in making sure that no rebellion orrevolt was caused in their controlled areas. One of their tactics was to eliminateall other political parties and arrest their leaders, replacing the ConstituentAssembly by a one-party state that worked through a hierarchy of soviets, allunder Bolshevik control, this happened because the Constituent Assembly wasorganized by the Provisional Government to draw up a constitution for Russia.However, when it was elected, the majority of delegates happened to be SocialRevolutionaries.
As a result, the Bolsheviks, fearing opposition of theirplans, closed the Assembly. TheCheka, their secret police led by Felix Dzerzhinsky operated on a 24-hour basisand it was the result of an attempt to kill Lenin in 1918. This failedassassination attempt on Lenin was used as justification for the secret policeand army to hunt down and arrest anyone who was suspected of opposition towardsthe Reds, having over 100,000 executions of political opponents by the end ofthe war.
There was no clear government body that could hold back the Cheka, andif anyone was brave enough to argue against it, would be executed on the baseof being “enemies of the state” or “enemies of the revolution”. It operated onits own accord, investigated and arrested whoever it chose, and thereforeanswered to no one. Asmentioned before, all rival political parties were banned and thanks to theCheka secret police, any opposing voice was silenced, as Lenin was prepared tocommit the “most heinous crimes,” including “confiscation, expulsion fromdomicile, deprivation of ration cards, publications of lists of enemies of thepeople, etc.”3 aswell as using techniques of torture and psychological torment used by Chekaagents. Other examples included public gestures such as Lenin’s famous order tothe Penza Cheka to hang at least a hundred men, saying “and make sure that thehanging takes place in full view of the people.
” Therefore, creating a lawbased on exhibition and fear. Lenin and Trotsky’s leadershipplayed a key role on the Red’s victory, with Lenin providing energy and driveto inspire success, while Trotsky helped with the organization and charisma. Lenin’srole was somewhat more low-key, as he stayed in Moscow most of the time insteadof visiting battle fronts like Trotsky did, but he had strong strategies andimplemented the “Red Terror”, which lasted from September to October of 1918, andit dealt with anyone who was suspected of counter-revolutionary activities,with 10,000 to 15,000 people being executed by the Cheka during this period4. He also implemented the “War Communism” whichwas the name of the economic system that Lenin introduced, from 1918 to 1921,to fight the economic problems brought on by the civil war. One of the first proceduresof the system was to nationalize the land, as well as banks and shipping, withforeign trade being declared a state monopoly.
Lenin stressed how important itwas for the workers to show discipline as well as being hardworking if therevolution was to survive. Despite War Communism being a failure, within thecities, people were convinced that their leaders were right and that theirfailings were because of the Whites and internationalism capitalists. And ifany strikes were to happen, Lenin made sure to have anyone arrested quickly,which further ensured his important role as a leader. Trotskywas a brilliant organizer, reorganizing the Red Army out of the Red Guards and whatwas left of the old Tsarist army, he was able to increase the number of regulartroops available to the Bolsheviks from 550,000 to 5.5 million, managing toeventually outnumber the Whites by ten to one5. He was also an inspirational figure, goingfrom front to front in his famous armored train to encourage the troops.Despite being untrained in military matters, Trotsky was a natural leader ofthe people.
He had simple beliefs, imposing a very tough system of disciplineover the Red Army, which meant that if a Red commander was successful incombat, then they were rewarded, usually in form of promotion. Yet, if acommander failed and survived or was found guilty of cowardice or treason, hepaid the price by being executed. Trotsky was also willing to use ex-Tsaristofficers, a decision that was questioned by many, but he insisted they wouldbring the military expertise that the Red Army lacked.
In addition, Trotskymanaged to successfully inspire and encourage troops to try harder and bringvictory, as he travelled in an armoured train to the front lines to show hissupport. TheBolsheviks had a clear and systematic philosophy; their propaganda helped themgain support from the people, as they told them that their living conditionswould improve and that wealth would be distributed equally. Trotsky’s train wasfilled with equipment to produce posters and leaflets, other trains also hadcinemas where propaganda films were shown. Speeches, newspapers, and leaflets oftentold the people that, through the Soviets, they were in charge of Russia, asthe Bolsheviks portrayed themselves as a patriotic party that wanted to defendRussia from imperialists, spreading the fear that Russia would be taken over byforeign countries and sucked into their empires, which was particularlyeffective seeing as the Whites had the support from Britain, France, and USA,gaining the distrusts of the people. In conclusion, despite the Whites’weakness being a key reason for the Reds winning the Russian Civil War, it wasthe leadership of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky and their strategiesthat ultimately brought the Red’s victory.1 C NTrueman.
“The Russian Civil War.” historylearningsite.co.uk. TheHistory Learning Site. Last modified May 22, 2015. Accessed November 18, 2017.
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/modern-world-history-1918-to-1980/russia-1900-to-1939/the-russian-civil-war/.2 Anderson,Peter. “Why Did the Bolsheviks Win the Russian Civil War? Peter AndersonCompares the Tactics and Resources of the Two Sides.” History Review, September 2002.
Accessed November 18, 2017.https://www.questiaschool.com/library/journal/1G1-95844160/why-did-the-bolsheviks-win-the-russian-civil-war.3 Mayer,Arno J. The Furies: Violence and Terrorin the French and Russian Revolutions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UniversityPress, 2000. Accessed November 20, 2017.
https://www.questiaschool.com/read/103273882/the-furies-violence-and-terror-in-the-french-and. 4 C NTrueman.
“The Red Terror.” The History Learning Site. Last modifiedMay 22, 2015.
http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/modern-world-history-1918-to-1980/russia-1900-to-1939/the-red-terror/. 5 Stephen J.
Lee,Lenin and Revolutionary Russia, Questions and Analysis in History (London:Routledge, 2003), 97, http://www.questiaschool.com/read/126052297/lenin-and-revolutionary-russia.