Why did the 'Reds' win the Russian Civil War?

Why did the 'Reds' win the Russian Civil War?

To what extent was Lenin's leadership of the Bolsheviks the most important reason they came to power in the winter of 1917?   Essay should consider firstly the significance of Lenin's leadership, this is a focus upon the agency-centred school of historical interpretation. Victor Serge emphasises that his importance was large. Thereafter you should consider other factors important for the revolution, including but not limited to: the impact of WWI, the Failure of Dual Governance, the weakness of Kerensky as a leader, the attractiveness of ideology, the lack of an alternative, the strength of other personalities (e.g. Schapiro's advocation of Trotsky).  Or alternatively;  Why did the 'Reds' win the Russian Civil War? Please consider: Trotsky's leadership of the Red Army. Ideological Conviction of Troops. Failure of Foreign Intervention. Red control of key areas. White incoherence and lack of organisation. Malleability of the greens. 

Was Lenin’s Leadership of the Bolshevik party the most important reason they came to power in November 1917?

This essay discusses the role and importance of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, Lenin, during the Bolshevik takeover of the Russian government in 1917. The failure of the dual-government and the resulting growing discontent for leading parties in both the Duma and Soviet, even socialist ones (Mensheviks and SRs) by the proletariat and the peasantry is bound to be major factor of the successful implementation of Marxist-leninist rule in Russia. The Bolshevik image as an alternative to other socialist parties did play a major part in their takeover of power as well. But without the program, drive and essential leadership offered by Lenin, the Bolsheviks would never have seized power in 1917.

One of the central issues leading the way for the Bolsheviks to seize power was the failure of the 2nd provisional government under Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky. Even though his cabinet considered mainly of moderate socialists, they had failed to solve the problems implemented by the ignorance and conservatism of the authoritarian regime under Nicholas II. The peasantry and proletariat especially were disappointed with Kerensky. The peasants believed the land they worked should and would be distributed amongst them and approximately (find number) soldiers in this belief deserted the front. The Provisional government on the other hand claimed that this task should be delegated to a properly elected government.

 This and the failure of providing the Russians with commodities and more power for the people, which had caused the bread riots of the February revolution was what the temporary duma had promised and failed to solve. This failure to execute their goals had evoked great distress amongst the revolutionary classes of Petrograd, they were looking for a new socialist alternative. The Bolsheviks offered this alternative and between February and October 1917, their membership numbers had risen from approximately 10000 to 300000. The revisionist historian Sheila Fitzpatrick had stated; “… they (the Bolsheviks) were the only party uncompromised by association with bourgeoisie and the February regime, and the party most firmly identified with the ideas of worker’s power and armed uprising.” Very notably, the Bolshevik party was the only political organization to officially support the demonstrations during the July days (16th-20th july 1917). They demanded all power to be delegated to the Soviets (July days slogan: “All power to the soviets!”), which were elected by peasants, soldiers and workers. This slogan was emplaced by Lenin, revealing his ability to lead and orchestrate people into following him; an interventionist would claim that this ability of Lenin’s to manipulate those who listen was the major reason for the Bolshevik grasp of power in post-world war I Russia. As the SRs and Mensheviks failed to support this claim, this again led to an influx of people’s sympathy for the Bolsheviks, again, in the interventionist school of thought, this was all on account of Lenin ability to communicate and persuade people to follow him. This led to major arrests of Bolshevik leaders and Lenin’s abscondence to Finland, from where; through his letters he urged the Bolshevik leaders to call for Bolshevik insurgencies. For example in his letter on the 1st of October Lenin wrote: “If power cannot be achieved without insurrection, we must resort to insurrection at once.”  A figurative explanation exploited by Bolshevik propaganda resorted to Lenin as the “engine driver of the revolution”.

 On the other hand, one might follow the conservative historian Richard Pipes who claims that “…the ‘masses’ neither needed nor desired a revolution; the only group interested in it were the intelligentsia.” He argues that “it (communism) was imposed on her (Russia) from above.” This happened by seizure of “Nerve centers” of what he labels the “modern state”, being Russia’s provisional government and the centers being the key communication and transportation structures of Petrograd. This seizure was carried out, not by the proletariat, as Marx had theorized, but much rather by a small armed group of revolutionaries.

One must as well not underestimate the role of Leon Trotsky (find quote) as military head of the Petrograd coup de état. Without him, the organization necessary for a military coup would not have been provided.

 Still, Trotsky’s ability was not the only factor leading to a successful acquisition of Petrograd. Again the failure of Kerensky’s center-left provisional government is pointed out, as they as a consequentialist would argue provided the Red Guard, the militia wing of the Bolshevik party, who carried out the previously stated Petrograd take-over, with weapons during the failed military coup of general Kornilov.  Kerensky, in need of defense troops for Petrograd called upon the Red Guard for aid.  Without combat, Kornilovs troops were persuaded by the Bolsheviks not to invade the Russian capital. This incident cleared the way for Bolshevik take over as they now were in possession of a means of forcibly take power, which, when looking at the Bolshevik ideology of being the “revolutionary vanguard” as their party program had called them was inevitable.

Despite Soviet historians (G.D. Obichkin stating: “…, Lenin as the leader of the masses…”) as well as textbooks from the USSR (History of the CPSU:”Petrograd workers … under the guidance of the Bolshevik party” and “The revolution was victorious because its vanguard was the working class which headed the movement of millions … demanding “peace, bread and liberty!””, who claim that the revolution was an uprising of the masses lead by Lenin, most of the action of seizing Petrograd was performed by the red guard in the morning of the 7th November (translated from 25th October as in the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar). Bolshevik rule was imposed on the people by a small group of armed militia, notably there was very limited to no resistance to the Bolshevik forces. In the countryside of the former Russian Empire, minor and ethnical groups had staged their own uprisings, these groups generally labeled “greens” were not imposed on by Lenin’s ideas and their importance in the initial Bolshevik rule only stretched as far as Petrograd.

Lenin’s role in the Bolshevik seizure of Power was one of central importance, as he created the basis for the party’s goals. His program and his actions were decisive and reflected strongly in the actions carried out by the Bolshevik party in October 1917. Lenin’s intervention, in the long term, of splitting the Bolsheviks from the Mensheviks created the political body which eventually seized power, this gives Lenin the credit for enabling the Russian revolutionaries to carry out a revolution. The unstable and unpopular state structure as that of the provisional government as well was one of the main reasons why the Bolshevik party took power in October 1917. Lenin’s urge towards his party comrades to seize power by force was one central reason why the Bolsheviks had carried out a coup de état, without the support from other influential party leaders, e.g. Leon Trotsky, Lenin’s Idea would have been rejected by the Bolshevik party heads.

After all, Lenin’s ability, with that of others (especially Trotsky) to lead a small group of revolutionaries, not the mass uprising as USSR historians and those sympathetic to him would promote, was the key for the Bolsheviks to become the ruling power in Russia. Without him, the revolution would have been utterly impossible. 


This essay will examine the factors that would have played a part in the victory of the Reds’, or Bolshevik’s, against the Whites, or Mensheviks. In accord with this, this essay shall split into three sections to consider three different areas in which the Bolsheviks (henceforth simply known as the Reds) would have proved superior to the Mensheviks (henceforth the Whites) although there are many other reasons for their victory. To this end, this essay shall take into consideration how the internal harmony within the Reds as regards ideology far surpassed that of the Whites; how the foreign intervention provided to the Whites did more damage than good as a result of various different reasons; and lastly, how the Reds’ numbers and experienced men helped lead them to victory.

Firstly, the Reds, being majoritarian, believed in the idea of being governed by the decision of the majority and thus had a commitment to the cause owing to the fact that they all shared the same goal. The Whites, on the other hand, were minoritarian and wanted to bring about a restoration of a previous system of government. However, in terms of their political stances, they ranged from socialists to conservatives; some Whites were hoping to restore the Provisional Government whilst others hoped to reinstitute the Tsardom. Therefore, the Whites did not truly share a common purpose and consequently were not able to muster up enough motivation to see any plans through because they were unable to all agree on one specific idea. Historian Abraham Ascher comments on this, saying: “the lack of political maturity among all social groups undermined every endeavor to reach a reasonable solution.” Not only were the White’s soldiers unmotivated but they also lacked a sense of commitment because the peasants (soldiers) doubted the White’s policies on land just as they had doubted those of the former ruling class from whom the White’s leaders consisted of. Anton Denikin, general of the White army, states: “ For them it was a question of returning to the past—and they tried to restore it both in form and spirit.”

Secondly, as far as foreign intervention is involved, the Reds did not receive any but rather used the resources at their disposal within the country. The Reds were in control of Russia’s industry and much of its population, which provided it with Russian-made weaponry. The Reds were also in control of the railway centers, which allowed them the luxury of being able to move soldiers and ammunition to and fro as they pleased from front to front. The Whites, on the other hand, were not as fortunate and had to rely on the Allies for the majority of their weaponry. Had the Reds not had the aforementioned resources, they would have been rather poorly armed because of the Allied blockade and perhaps the Whites would have had better chance at victory however, Lenin was able to use their help against them. He appealed to Russian patriotism in saying that the Whites were, in a sense, under the control and at the mercy of the Allies which only helped to increase the number of men joining the Red Army who found truth in Lenin’s words. In any case, the foreign soldiers did not make much of a difference as they never fought and France had already pulled its forces out by April 1919. The Allied help also proved to be quite injurious for the Whites as some of the Allies supported the monarchists within the Whites, others those seeking liberal democracy; some supported the other factions which made up the group but there was not one nation which supported the Whites as a whole and thereby brought about more contention amongst the Whites.

Lastly, the armies’ numbers were largely uneven. The Reds already outnumbered the Whites in the early years of the civil war but by 1920, the Red Army consisted of five million soldiers. Not only did the Whites not have a sufficient number with which to take on the Red Army (it is estimated that the largest, organized attack against the Reds (and there were few which were even close to this number as the Whites had considerable difficulties with cooperation and communication) was around 500,000) but in the event that the Whites did attempt to attack, their efforts were poorly executed and, in most cases, utterly ineffective. Though, it was not just the having of a large army that brought about victory but Trotsky’s organization and reintroduction of discipline and ranks into the military as well. Trotsky in addition provided a solution to the problem of having a scarcity of experienced officers (of which the White forces had an abundance of). Trotsky was able to bring in former Tsarist officers and figure out a way to ensure their loyalty. The Reds also had the secret police known as the Cheka (or OGPU, as it was known after the first world war), organized by Felix Dzerzhinsky, which aimed to completely put an end to counter-revolutionaries and to shoot any deserters. The Cheka ensured discipline and was feared by enemies and friends of the Reds, preventing any attempts at mutiny or incompetently planned attacks from the Whites. Contrary to the Reds, the Whites had a less than formidable army, were slowly losing all aid from the Allies and also had within it skeptical peasants who saw that the Whites had no intentions of creating more ideal conditions for the peasants but rather were simply trying to regain power and those peasants began to desert the Whites, further depleting their army, which was already feeble in comparison with the Red army.

In conclusion, therefore, this essay will state that the Whites never truly had a fighting chance against the Reds. The Reds were more powerful—they had resources, experienced officers coupled with a large, committed fleet at their disposal, who all shared a common purpose, which helped drive them towards their goal. The Whites, however, were not able to claim the possession of power when they had so little evidence to back it up with. The army was small, divided; communication was poor and they never worked as a unit. Therefore, historian Adam B. Ulam can rightly say that “the Bolsheviks [The Reds] did not seize power, they picked it up” as though power were a ball that the Whites had fumbled, it fell to the ground and the Reds simply passed by and took it without meeting any real form of opposition from the Whites. 


By the summer of 1918, the communists had begun to face a series of devastating attacks. This was the beginning of, and would grow to form, a vicious civil war that would tear Russia apart. In the end, it was the communists that seized victory and ended the disruptive and unstable malevolence that the civil war had erupted into. It was a victory that several in the future would question and query about.” What was it exactly that caused the Reds’ success?” many would ask. In answering this enquiry, this essay will look specifically into the; Red control over specific areas (their geographical advantage), Trotsky’s leadership in the Red army, failure of foreign intervention, and the White’s incoherence and lack of organization in the Russian Civil war.

Throughout the most of the Civil War the Reds had centralized the majority of their forces in a certain area that had covered Moscow and Petrograd. The Whites seemed to be at a clear advantage with possession of the areas bordering this communist central, these areas included, Murmansk, Archangel, Yekaterinburg, and Samara. They held the benefit of literally surrounding the Bolshevik region[1]. Therefore, to what advantage were the Reds exactly in, holding only this central zone?  It was actually this particular location that contained the largest industrial centers which provided munitions and war supplies throughout the course of the war. Additionally, this location provided the control of the railway lines which connected Petrograd and Moscow to the rest of the country. This meant that; they could send troops and munitions to any of the battle areas swiftly, they could easily distribute resources, and communication was significantly more effective. This clear advantage was an important factor in the Red victory of the civil war, as transportation, resources, and communication were aspects of the war which proved to be extremely vital – in several cases it had decided the successfulness of an attack. A precise example of this was the unsuccessful attempt to capture Petrograd on the 19th of October 1919, where the White forces were driven back and away into Estonia – all due to, the strength of the Bolshevik core, and the strategic advantage it provided the Communists[2].
            One could argue against this point with suggesting that it wasn’t this possession of a strong and defensive core that had caused Red Victory within the war. It was rather many of the other factors, such as, the Whites’ inability to organize troops effectively, or even the stable and powerful leadership of the Communists from Lenin and Trotsky. This is because, although the Whites were not in possession of the previously mentioned benefits provided by the areas of Moscow and Petrograd, they still proved to act certainly effective against the Reds at points of the Civil War without the provision of these benefits. Examples of this include; the incredibly successful capture of, firstly North Caucasus during Aril 1919, then secondly the following taking of Tsaritsyn on the 17th of June 1919 – all of which had taken place with little food shortage, due to the British Governmental Support. This would then ultimately prove against the possession of strong and defensive Communist core acting as a central cause of the Reds victory. Nonetheless, the possession of this key area had proven to still provide the Bolsheviks with quantitative supplies which had been vital in the Civil War for the Reds’ survival – it had even permitted Lenin’s adoption of the War Communism concept – thus proving it’s rightfulness to even be considered as a reason to why the Communists were victorious.

Leadership was another factor that was vital for the victory of the Reds. Specifically, it was the superb leadership of Trotsky over the Red army that was the clear cause for Communist success.Throughout the Civil War, Trotsky had built the Red army from a “small volunteer force of proletarians… to a mass conscript army of five million (by 1920), 75 percent of which were peasants by birth – it was a figure roughly proportionate to the peasant population of Russia in 1920”[3]. He even brought in approximately 50,000 experienced former tsarist officers and appointed political commissars to each unit of men to make sure the officers and soldiers carried out orders correctly. Trotsky’s organization and army regulations put into place merely prove that the leadership on the Bolshevik side was significantly strong, and subsequently provided the greater advantage in battles which lead to the several victories they managed to obtain in the Civil War. This is because these particular attributes and acts seen within in the Communist side were ones the opposing White side failed to contain and commence. This had ultimately defined the successfulness of each side, obviously meaning victory for the Reds.
            However, one must consider that it may not have been Trotsky’s strength in organization that had acted as a cause for the Communist’s victory, as it could be argued that it was actually the Whites’ poor leadership and disorganization that had caused this. Throughout the Civil War, the Whites’ had always expressed great weakness when it came to the field of leadership and organization. It could be perceived that they lost their battles and even the entire war as a result of this weakness – not the strength of Trotsky’s leadership. It was precisely this disadvantage that the Whites had contained on January 1920, where due to poor leadership and organization, General Deniken’s forces had been brutally driven out of the Don and into Rostov, which then resulted in the selection of a new commander in chief of the White army. This evidences and gives validity to how it might have possibly been, the weakness in organization and leadership within the White army, rather than the strength of Trotsky’s leadership within the red army, that had given the Communists their victory in October 1922. 

Another important reason for the victory of the Reds in the civil war was the failure of foreign intervention. Whilst the Whites contained the advantage of foreign support – from countries such as, Britain, France, Japan, Czechoslovakia and the United States of America – ­this advantage proved to produce great failure in the war. This was because firstly, although the intervention provided the Whites with valuable armaments and war supplies, the majority of their supplied troops did not fight. Many sympathized with the Bolshevik cause, and several others had lost motivation to fight. There was mutiny within the French navy of the Black Sea, there was great protest from the British Labor Party against the death of Russian workers at the hand of British troops, and American involvement had only the aim of preventing the seizure of territory in the east by the Japanese. It was easy to assume the foreign support was only halfhearted and ineffective. An example proving this particular failure in foreign support, was seen when in February 1919, the British government had pulled their forces out of central Asian regions bordering Russia, almost literally handing over the central Asian regions support and agreement with the Bolshevik, and allowing the reestablishment of communications between Siberia and Moscow[4].             

Secondly, this foreign support gave the Communists the benefit in their Bolshevik propaganda. This was because they were now able to manipulate the issues that came with foreign intervention during the Civil War period, which basically meant that; the idea of a purely Russian and non-capitalist Bolshevik side could be promoted, and the Whites could be criticized and portrayed as “pets” of the foreign capitalist powers. The Reds did exactly this, using projects and propagandists such as, the “Okna ROSTA” and the infamous Viktor Deni, which eventually proved to be significantly effective, as it gained the Reds the required support to win the Civil War.[5]             

However it could be argued that, firstly the Whites had at several moments of the Civil War displayed great strength against the Red army without the support of the ineffective foreign aid, which indicates none or very little affect that foreign involvement had on the success or failure of the White side. Secondly it had also been suggested that in some cases, the propaganda from either side of the Civil War was “regarded as a failure and inconsequential”[6]. This indicates the possibility of how the foreign involvement within the Civil War could have possibly had either no effect at all, or not enough of an affect to directly cause the Victory of the Soviets, proving against the point of how the failure of foreign support caused the Reds to win the Civil War.  Lastly, in addition to the mentioned reasons to why the Reds won the Civil War, the incoherence and disorganization of the Whites would obviously have to be included. The Whites were a classic display of disorganization, terrible discipline, incoordination and contradiction. They were a coalition made up of different kinds of Bolshevik opposition, for example, the Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries, Tsarists, displeased army officers, and nobles with loss of land to peasants. And their ambitions completely contradicted each other; they were even perceived to hate each other[7]. Not to mention, the fact that their armies were located thousands of miles apart - generals Yudenich and Deniken attacked Russia from the west, Admiral Kolchak from the east – which meant that communication was problematic whenever contact was actually attempted, and therefore an effective coordinated attack was equally as difficult. Additionally, due to the sides opposing ideologies, there were barely ever quantitative attacks from each of the sides within the same period of time. The White general’s ambitions contradicted each other, and there was distrust to that point of, unwillingness to compromise in and for a coordinated effective attack. A clear instance where the whites suffered this weakness was seen in the recapture of Kiev on December 17th 1919, where Deniken’s forces faced a disgraceful loss and were pushed out of the territory due to its deteriorating numbers, which had all originated from a simple lack of aid and support within the side of the Whites[8]. Furthermore, many of the troops and (often) commanders adopted and followed unorthodox drug/alcohol addictions, proving far less discipline within the White army in comparison to the victorious Communist side. Overall, one could assume the incoherence and lack of organization or discipline within the White army had reached the extent of almost allowing a Red Victory, thus making it the last and final reason.             

This point can be argued against with suggesting that it was the Communist’s strength in their aims and organization that had granted themselves their own victory, rather than the incoherence and disorganization of the Whites. With Trotsky’s leadership (as mentioned previously), many rules and regulations had been put into place which gave the Red army extraordinary organization. These basic characteristics could be considered to have brought the Reds their victory. Like so that took place throughout the whole of the Civil war in the majority of battles won by the Communists.  In conclusion, finding the answer to why the Reds won the Russian Civil War is rather confusing. There were many factors that lead towards the victory of the Communists. This essay prioritized and concentrated on the, Red control over specific areas (their geographical advantage), Trotsky’s leadership in the Red army, failure of foreign intervention, and the White’s incoherence and lack of organization in the Russian Civil war. These particular reasons have both arguments for and against how they are legitimate reasons to why the Bolsheviks were victorious, however ultimately they prove to be the most important causes of the Reds’ victory. 

Footnotes:   [1] Mewdsley, Evan. The Russian Revolution. 4th. Pegasus Books, 2007. Print.  [2] Williams, Beryl. The Russian Revolution. 2nd. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1987. Print.  [3] Figes, Orlando. The Red Army and Mass Mobilization during the Russian Civil War 1918-1920. 1st. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. 168. Print.     [4] Edward. A, Allworth. Central Asia. 3rd. United States of America: Duke University Press, 2002. 232-233. Print.  [5] Arslaynian, Artin.H. Soviet Studies. 2nd. Michigan : Taylor & Francis Ltd, 1989. 559-573. Print.  [6] Lazarski, Christopher. The Slavonic and East European Review. 4rth. 70. London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 1992. 688-707. Print.  [7] Shevtsova, Tatyana. "Conflicts." rem33. The Voice of Russia, n.d. Web. 16 Feb 2013.  [8] Williams, Beryl. The Russian Revolution. 2nd. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1987. Print.   


This essay will look at the different factors that contributed towards the ‘Reds’ victory during the Russian Civil War against the ‘Whites’. It will look at how Trotsky’s leadership helped in leading to the ‘Reds’ success, then look at the role foreign intervention had to play in alienating the ‘Whites’ from the Russian population. The essay will also look at what role ideology had to play in allowing for the ‘Reds’ success among several other factors.

There had been growing unrest amongst the local population of Russia due to the demands of war. Increasingly more and more soldiers were deserting their posts. This lead to the overthrow of the Tsar, creating a power vacuum. The Provisional Government was established to take place of the Tsar whose job was to choose a government and decide how Russia was to be ruled in the future. In combination with that the Petrograd Soviet was also being formed, workers and soldiers were sent as representatives to form a soviet to ensure that their interests were also being taken care of[1]. The Provisional Government was the official ruling power however they were not able to make decision unless the Soviet agreed.

By 1917, the people were in a state of agitation due to Russia’s participation in war, which had led to food and fuel shortages. The peasants also were demanding the redistribution of land. However, the Provisional Government was not prepared to make such sacrifices. This was no surprise as the Provisional Government were mostly made of the noblemen and landowners.

The ‘Reds’ and the ‘Whites’ fought the Russian Civil War. The ‘Whites’ comprised of several different groups including the Mensheviks, former members of the Duma, nobles, middle-class people and militarists. As such, they did not have one ideological idea in common, which would later act as a disadvantage. The Monarchists wanted to see the restoration of the monarchy whereas the militarists wanted the restoration of the Provisional Government[2]. The ‘Reds’ mainly made of the Bolsheviks/Communists and peasants; they mostly had mostly common goals in terms of wanting to establish a Socialist society. The peasants were attracted to the ‘Reds’ by their willingness to allow the peasants to own land, which the ‘Whites’ were unwilling to allow.

There were several factors that played into the ‘Reds’ success in the Russian Civil War. Initially, the ‘Whites’ should have found it easy to defeat the ‘Reds’ as they possessed more experienced generals[3].  However, Trotsky’s leadership of the Red Army and the Cheka helped to defeat the lack of experience[4]. Trotsky quickly drafted officers from the old Russian Army to counter the ‘Whites’[5]. Trotsky also granted the Cheka the right in 1918 to execute or arrest anyone suspected of counter-revolutionary or anti-Bolshevik activity. Members from the Cheka were also placed into the Red Army to monitor loyalty and prevent and disagreements[6].

Moreover, when the Russian Civil War first began, the ‘Reds’ took control of all communication lines and railways to ensure that the ‘Whites’ could not transport supplies to their soldiers and to hinder the ‘Whites’ efforts at planning any retaliation. This manoeuvre also allowed for the rearming and manoeuvring of soldiers easily. By 1921, the Red Army had frown to almost five million[7]. The ‘Reds’ were also more at an advantage in terms of what spaces they occupied. Their central occupied locations were in Moscow and St. Petersburg, which were where Russia’s transport and communication systems were centralized.

White incoherence and lack of organisation also posed as a great weakness allowing for the ‘Reds’ victory. The Whites never commanded forces totalling more than 250,000 men at once. Their units were also located in points that were far away from each other and based around the less developed areas of Russia[8]. The fact that there were so many different parties that comprised the ‘Whites’ the soldiers were not unified by one ideology. They all held conflicting ideas. For example, the nobles and militarists wanted re-establishment of Provisional Government while the Monarchists wanted the restoration of Tsardom. This led to tension and unwillingness to cooperate at times.

The ‘Reds’ took advantage of foreign intervention in aid of the ‘Whites’. Britain, France, Japan and USA sent forces to help the ‘Whites’ as they did not want to see the establishment of Communism in Russia. They also wanted to maintain the Eastern front so they did not want to see the ‘Reds’ succeed as they were against participation in the war and would withdraw immediately if they won[9]. The ‘Reds’ used foreign intervention as propaganda against the ‘Whites’ portraying them as being puppets of the Capitalist powers while the ‘Reds’ were the protectors of the Russian peoples.

The ‘Reds’ were also able to add the ‘Greens’ to their forces. The ‘Greens’ were those who didn’t identify initially with either the Reds or the Whites and were more focused on seizing land for the peasants. Because of this the Reds were able to recruit them, as they were willing to give up land while the Whites were not.

 In conclusion, the success of the Reds was mostly due to Trotsky’s leadership. His quick planning and smart tactics gave the Reds a huge advantage that might have possibly not have happened under any other leadership. His recruitment of officers from the old Army countered the experience of the generals in the White army. Moreover, the seizure of the railway lines and the communication systems also constrained any attempts that the Whites had at planning any counter attacks. The good planning  allowed for the Reds' success.

Footnotes:   [1] Shephard, Colin. Did the Provisional Government Rule Russia Well?. London: John Murray, 1996. 39. Print.  [2] Smele, Jonathan. "World Wars: War and Revolution in Russia 1914-1921." BBC History. BBC, 10 Mar 2011. Web. 15 Feb 2013. .  [6] Allison, Fiona. "The Cheka in Russia 1917-1922." Suite101. 14 Sep 2009: n. page. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. .  [7] Smele, Jonathan. "World Wars: War and Revolution in Russia 1914-1921." BBC History. BBC, 10 Mar 2011. Web. 15 Feb 2013.


As Leon Trotsky indicated in his publication “The Russian Revolution1,“

Furthermore, before answering the hypothetical statement, there has been a significant debate weather the occurrences in Russia from 1917-21 were to be called a “coup de d’état” rather than “civil war”.

            Firstly, one of the key reasons why the reds arose to become the victorious contingents was due to the lack of organization from the side of the whites. The “whites” or as a Marxist-Leninist may say “le petite bourgeoisie”, were a social class stratum that consisted of mainly middle class Russian intelligentsia (doctors, lawyers etc.). These people were not willing to give up their power, but wanted a constitutional monarchy. As Richard Pipes eminently stated, “the collapse, while not improbable, was certainly not inevitable”2. This post-revisionist interpretation suggests that it was more interventionism rather than determinism that catalyzed the downfall. Pipes being an exceedingly conservative historian puts his perspective into some extent of subjectivity, advocating a strong disfavor with communism. Furthermore the lack of entity can be evidenced when looking at the amount of divisions that were present within the white party:  those who supported the Tsarist regime were put under the same hat as some Social Revolutionaries (causing inner conflict within the parties). The primary leaders also caused problems: Yudenich, Deniken and Kolcjak kept clashing against each other, making it very strenuous to co-operate hence allowing the Red army to triumph. Additionally, whilst the whites were spread across the vast expenditures of Russia, the Reds had a more concentrated crowd. Most workers were in Petrograd: a setting that Richard Pipes in his 1990 published book  The Russian Revolution calls “the nerve center of the modern state”.  This reactionary interpretation is interesting, since it acknowledges the fact that the proletariat city was a stronghold and the brain of the Revolution.  It supports the concept that the Reds had a solid base (Petrograd) that gave momentum to the reds, other than the whites. Furthermore the lack of organization from the whites side can evidenced when looking at their means of transport: the reds controlled much of the railroad lines making the transport of artillery and supply difficult for the whites. This in some ways crippled the already disorganized army, since they were incapable to transport their troops making them an easy target for the (by the simple “communist”-ideology connected) Reds.

On the other hand it was not jus the insufficient arrangement from the whites that led to the Bolshevik victory, but also the fact the party was rather polarized than unorganized. With an exorbitant amount of views it appears infantile that a agreement would be probable (also known as Dual Authority). Additionally the whites may have had a chance of winning if they could have been able to persuade the

Secondly, it is intriguing how pivotal the leadership of both Leon Trotsky as well Vladimir Llyuich Lenin was. Now as Plato said , “The wisest have the most authority”, it is easy to understand to what immense extent political figures had on the people of Russia(especially in Petrograd). With post-revisionist historian Christopher Read interpretation of the current affairs being “a bottle ready to explode”4 it seems to be easy to say that these two individuals catalyzed most movement within the party. Professor Reeds, who grew up in the United Kingdom, has a quite omnipresent perspective. With most of his research being archival and based on contemporary sources (especially on his book “Culture and Power in Revolutionary Russia” 1990) it would be safe to say that he is not very subjective or limited. As seen in Lenin’s April Thesis5, and his quite provocative speech to the proletariat;“Wait until the Constituent Assembly for Land. Wait until the end of the war for the Constituent Assembly…” it appears that he was able to attackt a significant amount of supporters. The difference can be seen, with the memberships in the Bolshevik party rising from 24 000 in February to 340 000 by the end of October. From the evidence it can be easy to conclude that with a more ample and substantial amount of proponents, the reds were able to overthrow the existing power. Lenin’s strategic nationalization of industries and Strategically, the Commissar of War, Leon Trotsky was a vital character. His creation of the devoted “Red Army” or in Russian “абоче-крестьянскаяКрасная армия” in 1917 after the February revolts, lead to the reds being supported by a tenacious and hence victorious battalion. Taking Morgenthau’s key thesis of political realism to a smaller scale, (“states are selfish and defensive”) , it can be evaluated that it was only natural that the reds would win with such a strategically defensive head. He was able to travel over 65 000 miles during the role, thanks Communist control over the railways.

On the other hand, one must not only consider an agency but rather a holistic view of the war. It was not only Lenin and Trotsky that actually had an impact on the people, but rather also the movement of radicalization within the workers in Petrograd. ‘Мир, земля и хлеб” (Peace Land and Bread, Lenin’s slogan in Russian) was inspirational, however since he had missed most of the revolution whilst his duration in Germany, he “Reds” dismissed his ideas. Addiotonaly it was not just amicable trends that allowed leaders such as Trotsky and Lenin to power and win the war. “The Red-Terror”, violence that the Bolsheviks imposed on each other (including the violent acts of the Checka), killed 50 000 in 1918 alone. This demonstrates that it was not simply Trotsky and Lenin’s leadership that created a competent, committed and victorious army but rather the force exerted by the party as a whole. The last counterclaim would be that Trotsky’s militaristic leadership would haven been useless if the reds would not have had control of munitions. Looking at abundance the evidence above, it is save to say that the reds were able to win the war due to the manifesting of Lenin and Trotsky.

Lastly, it can be established that another reason for the defeat of the Provisional government to the “reds’ was the intervention of foreign parties. When looking at the contemporary illustrations in regards of the attitude(see comic) it demonstrates the overall situation that the reds created. It depicts the different white generals as the puppets of the Allies (Czechosolovacic, Japanese, Britain, ect.). They gave him 1 000 000 rifles, 700 field-guns in total, in addition to 600 French and British Forces in 1918 as well as the imperial “Dunsterfoce” through Persia. This substantial amount of intervention did not only serve as material that reds used to attackt supporters in their propaganda posters, but was particularly harmful to the sense of Russian patriotism. Especially when 70 000 Japanese troops landed in Vladivostok in 1918, hurt the camaraderie that was felt within the Russians. Now while it is still debatable weather or not the Russians still felt a strong sense of Humiliation after the events of 1904, orthodox post-revisionists can still interpret that foreign intervention largely aided the triumph from the reds. Additionally one could evaluate the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk as a form of foreign intervention hindering the whites: while Bolsheviks demanded “

Evidenced by the information above it can be stated that that the mayor reasons that lead to the red victory as following: the strategically and politically important Lenin and Trotsky combined with the failure of foreign intervention and lack or white organization. IN the future I would like to focus on S. Fitzpatrick’s case made in his book “Origins of Stalinism: How important was the civil war” (1987)  which is a revisionist reflection on the traumas caused by the civil war (and what it lead to in the future).

Why did the Bolsheviks win the civil war?


This essay will argue that the key factors for the Bolshevik victory, and ‘White’ loss in the Russian civil war were similar to the key factors of the German loss of the first world war, which were manpower and leadership. The Bolsheviks not only outnumbered the combined ‘White’ armies by 6 to 1, but also had to move this far larger army across a far smaller distance with far better infrastructure as they were in the most populated, and developed part of Russia. Furthermore, whereas the Whites had the mostly barren land of Siberia, and some land to the east under their control, the Bolsheviks had the major industrial centers under their control. This essay will argue that the conclusion of the civil war was a ‘white’ loss rather than being a Bolshevik victory.


First, one must consider the significant differences in manpower between the Bolshevik armies and White armies. The Bolsheviks significantly outnumbered the Whites, having 6 million soldiers to their disposal, compared to the White 1 million soldiers. This is extremely important as it would have been impossible for the 1 million White soldiers to defeat the 6 million Bolsheviks. Furthermore, the Bolsheviks were forced to fight to the death. As per Trotskii’s infamous words “If you fight he enemy might kill you, but if you don’t, we will kill you”. This conveys the culture the Bolshevik army had, that it was unacceptable to not fight for and with your comrades. Furthermore, the Bolshevik advantage in manpower was geographically complemented by the Vulga river and sophisticated railway system, which meant they could transport troops from one side of their territory to another within days. This is exemplified in the battle of Kazan, where the Krongstad sailors managed to get from Krongstad, in the north-westernmost part of Russia to Kazan, the south-easternmost part of Bolshevik territory, within less than a week. These sailors were the most important part of the Bolshevik victory in Kazan due to their extreme discipline and dedication to victory, making them a symbol for the rest of the army. However, although the Bolsheviks had such an extreme numerical advantage, they were completely surrounded, and it would have been impossible for them to survive a well-coordinated invasion from numerous fronts. As per Robert Service, had Yudenich, Kolchak and Denikin decided to have a coordinated, sustained assault on Bolshevik territory, the Bolsheviks would have collapsed. This highlights that although the Bolshevik’s had significant advantages in manpower and internal geography, they would not have stood a chance when simultaneously fighting on numerous different fronts. However this claim does not make sense as the Bolsheviks would still have outnumbered the ‘White’ armies if they were split up. Nevertheless, these Bolshevik troops would have been difficult to concentrate and therefore would not have been as organized, disciplined or fear ridden and would not have been effective.


Leadership was instrumental in the Bolshevik victory and ‘White’ loss in the Russian civil war. The Bolshevik armies led by Trotskii, had one clear leader, who they loved, respected and/or feared following every single one of his commands. Below him, Trotskii had the Cheka, who would make sure that no one would step out of line and instilled fear throughout all of his armies, as well as the thousands of ex-tsarist officers, all of whom instilled the discipline and strategy required for an effective army. Trotskii inspired his men with his speeches, leading them into the battlefield and forcing them to fight and die for the revolution. This is exemplified by his speech before the assault on Kazan where he stated that “We know what our task is, to stop the enemy from taking one step towards Moscow and recapture the lost city of Kazan. Now, Forward to Kazan” conveying his charisma, leadership as well as courage as he was leading his troops at the front of the lines. The significance of the Cheka was to instill an immense sense of fear within not only the simple soldiers, but also the thousands of Tsarists officers, making sure that they were all loyal to the cause. They brough fear into the regular soldiers by arresting or killing anyone who deserted, and they were extremely successful in doing so, capturing well over half of the 1.5 million Bolshevik deserters and trying them in front of their comrades. In order to keep the Tsarist officers in line, they kidnapped their families, holding them hostage in order to blackmail the Tsarist officers to train the Bolshevik armies and lead them on the battlefield. This leadership led to the Bolsheviks having an extremely well-oiled machine which would do anything to ensure their victory.


However, had ‘White’ leadership been more organized and effective, this incredible Bolshevik army would have been unable to win the war. The ‘Whites’ consisted of three main divisions, one led by general Yudenich, one led by general Kolchak and one led by general Denikin. These three generals were unable to agree on anything as they had different views for the future of Russia, one was a Fascist, one was a Tsarist and one was a Liberal, so there was no unity between these three sections. However had there been unity between these three Generals, the Whites would have been able to easily overpower and conquer the Bolshevik area of Russia with support of the foreign troops. The British, French and American troops were supporting the whites, yet did not know which general to support and therefore proved extremely ineffective, yet had they consciously supported all of the combined armies and invaded the Bolshevik area they would have won the war as can be seen from their victories in the few battles they fought. Furthermore, the Czech and Polish troops would have proved extremely effective, as can be seen from the deep Polish advance into Russian territory and the Czech taking of Kazan, however these troops were not utilized as the Russian Generals were unwilling to promise them sovereignty as they did not know if the other generals would agree. Finally, general Yudenich was unable to keep attacking the Bolsheviks after gaining back the Baltic states as the majority of his army consisted of Baltic people who simply wanted their independence. All of these convey that poor ‘White’ leadership was the reason for the Bolshevik victory, and had the anti-Bolsheviks been organized as anti-Bolsheviks rather than three separate armies, they would have won the war as the numerical disadvantage would have been cancelled out due to foreign intervention.

In conclusion, the reason for Bolshevik victory was a mixture between their excellent organisation, extreme numerical advantage and superior geographical aspects and the extremely poor organisation and leadership of the ‘White’ armies. The terrible organisation and leadership of the Whites were far more significant in the Bolshevik victory as had they been better organised, they would have won the war despite the smaller numbers.