“To what extent did the Bolsheviks succeed in the October Revolution and the Civil War due to weakness in opposition? ” The Bolsheviks were not a majority party in Russia, and it is therefore quite an achievement that they not only managed to gain power, but that they held on to it. On paper, you would not have thought the Bolsheviks would have been able to seize power or maintain it if faced with any substantial opposition, so does this mean that their success was dependant on the weakness of their opponents? The military support the Bolsheviks had in the October Revolution was not at all substantial.
It took a mere 500 Bolshevik troops to storm the Winter Palace and overthrow the Provisional Government. It would seem that, despite the achievement the Bolsheviks has gained by creating any form of military help, the weakness of the Provisional governments own military protection was the reason why the Bolsheviks had such an easy time taking power. The Provisional Government’s resistance was almost non-existent in terms of military, only a few Red Guard soldiers were wounded, most of which may have been from accidental friendly fire, and all of the Provisional Government’s forces had completely deserted.
In that sense, the success of their military assault on the Provisional Government was almost entirely dependant on that the Bolsheviks did not have to face any form of opposition with similar troops numbers. Even the famed ex-Menshevik turned Bolshevik Leon Trotsky admitted that 500 good men could have defeated the Bolshevik’s force, but also asked the rhetorical question of where the Provisional Government was to get 500 good men. However, the Civil War was quite different in terms of military conflict. The Bolshevik’s were not facing armies who put up virtually no resistance.
The casualties for both the Red’s and the White’s were high, around 1. 2 million for the Reds and 1. 5 million for the Whites. The Bolshevik’s also faced 2. 4 million white troops in opposition, an infinitely larger force than that which had been protecting the Provisional Government. The Bolshevik’s however, had increased their own military size to an impressive 3 million. This was done through conscription, and the result was an extremely large army, made up mostly of peasants, with the more favourable troops coming from urban backgrounds. The creation of such a ast army was certainly a show of Bolshevik strength, but again, as with the October Revolution, the armies they faced were often of low morale and not entirely devoted to the cause. The 2. 4 million in White opposition came from an eclectic background of tsarists, western anti-communists and other armies with their own agendas, such as the Czech Legion who were only really interested in Czech independence, the Kubans, as well as a number of Generals who were seemingly all out to gain for themselves, such as General Kolchak who was elected ruler of Siberia, but also declared himself supreme ruler of Russia as well.
These clashing ideals and the fact that the White forces were so scattered Geographically proved a major disadvantage, as although the Bolsheviks faced threats from all sides, these threats were part of seemingly very disorganised and uncoordinated attacks, which meant that the very centralised Red forces were able to deal with these attacks very efficiently as they were never facing large concentrated armies. Though the Bolshevik’s advantages were not completely due to the weakness of White coordination.
The Bolshevik’s had decided very early on that in order to defeat the Whites, they needed to centralise their forces around Moscow, the major industrial city and new capital of Russia. Doing this allowed them quick and easy access to munitions and other military equipment, whereas the Whites were often waiting around for ammunition drops from the Western allies. As well as this, the Red Army had access to and control over the railways, which also helped to speed up the transportation of troops and munitions between the battles.
With these advantages, the Red Army ended up being better equipped, more organised and were almost always in the most advantageous positions if it came to a fight. Another factor which can help us to understand the strengths of the Bolsheviks and the weakness of their opposition is the public support that they had. During the October Revolution, the public support that the Provisional Government had was, like it’s military power, practically non-existent.
The Provisional Government had never actually been elected, they had simply assumed power after the Tsar’s abdication, and so had never proved to the public that they were the right people for the job. Under the provisional government, the country had become almost a law unto itself, with the peasants revolting in the rural areas, illegally seizing land from landlords. This was because the provisional government had failed to solve the land problems in Russia, and the peasants were getting so desperate that they resorted to the seizing of land, just like back in the days of the broken Tsarist system.
In addition to this, there were numerous strikes in urban areas regarding the War. The War was, like the land problem, one of the primary reasons for the uprising against Nicholas II’s rule, and that the provisional government had come into power yet seemed reluctant or were unable to solve these problems greatly decreased their popularity with the Russian people. As a result, their favour was leaning more and more towards the Bolshevik dominated Soviets. Though that is not to say the Bolsheviks didn’t show the initiative to pounce on the problems the Provisional Government was facing and turn them to their advantage.
The Bolsheviks themselves led a number of strikes, in which they promised they would end the war and they coined the phrase “Land to the peasants”. They also showed great insight in their dominating of the Soviets, which were really the more powerful of the dual authority. The Soviets had control of the army, and with the Bolsheviks trying their upmost and succeeding in gaining the most influence of all the parties in the Soviet, they were greatly strengthening their own position.
But even then, their dominance could be put down to the weakness and lack of commitment of the other parties. As mentioned before, the Bolsheviks were not the majority party, the SR’s and Mensheviks had substantially greater numbers, but the reason the Bolsheviks continued to influence the Soviets most was that the other parties became lazy, and often did not bother attending soviet meetings, whereas the Bolsheviks turned up as often as possible and had much more time to influence the Soviet. The Civil War was quite different.
The Bolsheviks did not really have the majority of public support. The War Communism strategy that they adopted made them very unpopular with the general populace, and there were various uprisings and protests throughout the war, however, these were all quite easily quelled by the use of either the Cheka or the Red Army. As well as this, although not all of the people agreed with the Bolshevik’s they managed to conscript a huge number of people into the Red Army, even ex-Tsarists, in fact, many officers were ex-Tsarists and were kept in check by the political commissars.
They also took harsh steps, known as the Red Terror, which kept the public, for the most part, cooperative out of sheer fear of being killed by the Cheka or Red Army. The White Army cannot really be said to have had a huge amount of support either. They were a very mixed bunch, and nobody really knew what they were about, and so they had no more support than the Bolsheviks from the Russian population. Perhaps one of the most important things a government needs to survive is a driving sense of purpose.
During the October Revolution, The Provisional Government were far from an inspiring government, they had of course, sort of had power thrust upon them, they had not gained power by any amazing feat or show of power. The Bolsheviks on the other hand, were led by Lenin and Trotsky, who were both very driven individuals. They both had a phenomenal sense of purpose, being international revolutionaries, they truly believed that what they were doing could shape the world for the better.
Similarly, in the Civil War, the White forces did not have a single direction in which they were all aiming to do, besides the destruction of the Bolsheviks. Some wanted power for themselves, some were fighting for the promise of independence, but they were not a particularly unified force, and didn’t really have a leader whom they were led by, there was no white equivalent to Lenin and Trotsky. On the other hand, the Red Army were led by the inspiring Trotsky, who, though he was a harsh leader, instilled a huge sense of belief in the Red Army that they would eventually emerge from the war victorious.
In conclusion, I believe that the success of the Bolsheviks in both circumstances was not something which could have been achieved without both the strength and initiative the Bolsheviks displayed, or the weakness and lack of drive that their opposition showed, because, although the opposition in both cases had many problems, the Bolsheviks were able to take the upper hand by making sure that they were, by comparison, the stronger side, they were always just better enough so that they emerged victorious, whether they had 500 troops or 3 million, they always had the upper hand.