The Russian Civil War
Hypothesis: That the Bolshevik’s Red Army won the civil war in 1920 due to their central and influential ideologies and due to the lack of ideologies and direction of the Whites. Evaluate this claim. Shortly after the October and February revolutions, in 1917, Russia burst almost immediately into Civil War. The two parties concerned were the Bolshevik’s Red Army and the opposing White Army. The Civil War raged from the years 1917 to presently after 1920 with the eventual success of the Red Army over the White Army.
This triumph is traditionally seen by historians as a result of the weaknesses within the white army rather than a merit to the red army. However, with careful analysis of the military situations and organisation of both of the armies this can be shown as false. This analysis shows the result of the Civil War as both a consequence of the weaknesses of the White Army and the strong ideologies within the Red Army.
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This is further reinforced by the divided leadership within the White Army, as well as single unified command structure of the Red Army, contrasted to the way in which Trotsky was able to inspire and rally men As Richard Malone said in his school textbook, Analysing the Russian Revolution, ‘The White Army was made up of different groups who could not agree on whether they were fighting for monarchism, republicanism or for the constituent assembly. This made it hard for them to develop a political strategy. The White’s main weaknesses were in respect to their lack of a secure ideology. Their organisation was in shambles and they were completely lacking in a unified goal. A school website called Skwirk mentions that the White Armies were not only geographically isolated but ideologically divided and there was no central ideology linking the White Armies. As a result, they were unable to provide an appealing alternative to the Bolshevik’s Red Army and found it difficult to rally up support among the peasants.
This was partially due to the fact that the Red’s had promised land to the peasants whereas the Whites had made it very clear that the peasants would have to give most of the land they had seized in 19717. Because of this ideology, the peasants were always going to oppose the White’s. (2. Malone, 2002) The BBC state that the Whites had no one person in charge of their forces, and as a result, there was no co-operation between the various sections of the army.
This is reliable information because the BBC are extremely well known for their reliability and extremely accurate material. What’s more, the White leaders treated their army with contempt and reminded the Russians of the worst aspects of the Tsarist regime, therefore turning the people against them and towards the Reds. There is much argument between historians as to whether the whites could have won the war had they been more organised, as they were clearly superior on the battlefield.
However, it is also argued that though the Whites were superior as soldiers, they were outnumbered enormously by the Reds, and the White factions failed to muster popular support. The Whites were geographically divided, unable to gain the support of the peasants in Russia, incapable of attaining long-term and active foreign support, and unwilling to work with the independence-minded nationalities of the Russian Empire, said McCauley , perhaps a bit biased, on the Russian political website.
These factors have led many scholars to conclude that the Whites were doomed to defeat by their better-organized and more-confident Red opponents. (4. McCauley, 2011) The Reds however, were united by a strong ideology, high morale and had a strong sense of purpose. (5. Skwirk, 2012) They had a single unified command structure. Trotsky organised the Red Army into an effective fighting force and turned it into a better organised army than the Whites. The Bolsheviks also had a centralised based area including Moscow and Petrograd.
Moscow was the hub of the railway network and therefore the Bolsheviks had a great advantage in that they could transport men and munitions to the battle fronts easier than the Whites. (2. Malone, 2002) The Bolsheviks used ideology also to their advantage by using extremely imaginative and powerful images to turn civilians against the Whites. They promised a ‘wonderful’ new society for workers and peasants and portrayed themselves as the ‘defenders of Russian soil against foreign forces’.
Because of these influential and central ideologies, Bolshevik support increased greatly and contributed to their success in the civil war. The main ideal that the Bolsheviks presented to the urban and peasant population, was that they would protect the gains of 1917 and allow the peasants to keep the land they had seized. (2. Malone, 2002) Although people didn’t agree with all of the Reds principles, it was a far better alternative than the Whites, who were cruel to their army, and some supporters actually changed sides during the course of the war because of the cruelty.
The people of Russia didn’t want to go back to the monarchy because it would mean that they would lose all the gains they had made since 1917. This meant that because the Reds didn’t want this and the Whites did, the majority peasant and urban population would rather back the Reds than the Whites. This shows that the ideologies of the Red Army were more appealing than the White Army, presented a better alternative, and therefore rallied up more support than the White Army.
The Red Army won the civil war mainly due to their ideologies because they were more organised and efficient than the Whites and were united in their aims. Where the Whites were differing in opinions, the Reds, although they didn’t offer a better life for the people than before, they had one main goal and were true to their assurances. This use of one ideology appealed more to the people than the Whites scattered opinions and was the main contribution to why the Reds won the civil war.