Why did the Bolsheviks win the Russian Civil War? The Russian Civil War raged from 1918 until the start of 1921. During this time the Bolsheviks faced massive opposition to their rule in the form of the White Armies, led by the former officers of the Tsarist state, and also from intervention by the forces of foreign countries. The Bolsheviks were surrounded, and often outnumbered by their opponents. At times, their situation seemed hopeless. Yet, by the start of 1921, the Bolsheviks had defeated their enemies and gained a complete victory. This victory can be attributed to the party’s aims, leadership, geography, and support.
The Bolsheviks, commonly known as the Reds, had one aim: to take over the current government and create a socialist Russia. This goal was very simple, and easy to relate and spread throughout Russia. They were well organized, keeping strict control on their resources. The Whites, on the other hand, were made up of many opponents of the Reds. They consisted of Tsarists who wanted the Tsar and the old system of government back, people that wanted a military dictatorship, and liberals that wanted a constitutional monarchy like that of Great Britain.
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They all wanted different kinds of government for Russia, thus not having a common aim. In fact, the only common aim they had was to defeat the Bolsheviks. Furthermore, the Whites were spread out over entirety of the vast nation. This led to misconceptions in decisions, as well as poor management of troops and resources. The leaders of the Red Army were a very important factor to the Reds victory, the Bolsheviks were extremely fortunate in the quality of their leadership, particularly in Lenin and Trotsky. They used severe measures to achieve the suppression of the peasant uprisings.
Whole villages were burnt to the ground and their populations executed, while the inhabitants of local villages were forced to watch as a warning not to oppose the Bolsheviks. Lenin had led the Bolsheviks to victory in the October Revolution and throughout the Civil War, and he provided the voice and strategy to get goals done efficiently. Trotsky proved to be an incredible source of inspiration and hope for the Bolshevik troops and supporters. He demanded the best from all his soldiers and more. Lenin was impressed by Trotsky’s chievements and in 1919 remarked to Maxim Gorky: “Show me another man who could have practically created a model army in a year and won respect of the military specialists as well. ” Trotsky ended up leading his five million man army to victory and in doing so ensured the survival of the Bolshevik government. On the contrary, the leaders of the White Armies were much less organized and did not possess strong purpose. The principal leaders were Admiral Kolchak, General Denikin and General Yudenich It is reported that they were often drunk, and set disgraceful examples for their troops.
These shortcomings were exploited by the Reds through outstandingly clever propaganda. Geography also played a large role in the victory of the Bolsheviks. The larger part of the support of the Reds came from the cities and towns such as Petrograd and Moscow. Thus, their support was in the very center of Russia. The three main White armies were all located at opposite ends of Russia. There was a huge distance between Denikin’s and Kolchak’s armies. This distance made communication extremely difficult, while the Reds used their control of the existing communications networks.
The size of Russia also gave the Reds strategic depth. When under attack on one front they could safely give ground until troops were transferred from other fronts to repel the attack. Lastly, the Reds controlled the majority of the railroad system in Russia, making it easy to transfer troops from one front to the other. Lastly, and perhaps the most important factor in the Bolshevik victory, was the support of each side. Most peasants preferred the Bolshevik program of peace, land reform and worker control. With these ideas in mind it is obvious why four out of five peasants deserted the Whites and supported the Reds.
While the Red army lost four million men up to 1921 their support base allowed them to replace these losses more easily than the Whites could. Control of the heartland of Russia gave the Reds control of the largest chunk of the population and most of the war industry. The Red Army had almost ten times as many troops as the White Army. Also, the vast majority of Bolshevik support was of the same ethnic composition, containing mostly “Great Russians”. On the other hand, the White’s support came mostly from ethnic minorities.
Support was often given in the hope of gaining some form of independence in the future. According to James Graham, White leaders believed in a “Russia, one and indivisible. ” This created much internal bickering in the White organization with ethnic groups like the Cossacks often refusing to fight. After examining the reasons for the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War, one can certainly say that it is due to the superior leadership, organization, and support that they achieved victory. Lenin and Trotsky provided the inspiration and hope that millions of peasants and workers latched onto in support.
Their organization of aims and goals dwarfed that of the leaders of the White Army. Further research could reveal whether the Bolshevik victory was in fact because of a Red “win” or a White “loss”. Yet, with no doubt, at the end of the war, the Communist Party no longer faced a military threat to its existence and power. Despite Russia’s rapid economic growth in the following years, the combined effect of World War I and the Civil War left a lasting scar on the Russian society, and had permanent effects on the development of the Soviet Union.