The Russian Civil War of 1917 to 1921 was a war launched by the former officers of the Tsarist regime against the modernisation of Russia’s political economy by the Bolsheviks. The keys to the Red Army victory and White defeat in the Civil War were,
• The leadership of Lenin of the Bolsheviks and the Bolsheviks of the working class with a unity of purpose and command.
• The winning of support amongst the urban working class and peasantry of the population of Russia by the Bolsheviks,
• The class based prejudice of the White Army who were disinterested in forming allegiances.
• Disunity amongst the White Armies who fought for different reasons against as well as against one another.
• Geographical reason with the Bolshevik’s holding the urbanised and industrial centres of Moscow and St Petersburg.
• Foreign interventions on the side of the White Army which help win the support for the Bolsheviks and transformed the nature of the conflict.
• The ability of The Bolsheviks to adapt to the changing circumstances of the Russian Civil War.
The main difference between the Red and White armies in the Russian Civil War was the unity of purpose showed by the Bolshevik’s under Lenin’s leadership. This approach was contrasted by the loose collaboration of royalist officers, Cossacks, foreign agents and ethnic minorities that made up the White Army’s. The Bolsheviks provided to what the White Army couldn’t the ingredients for a government to govern, what Hugh White calls ‘prosperity, security and identity’.

R.B. Rose described the ‘brilliant political leadership’ of Lenin as being one of the decisive factors of The Russian Civil War. Lenin’s leadership of the Bolshevik Movement inspired the Red Army through, ‘rallying popular support’ through his speeches and by inspiring the Red Army fighters through promises of ‘a glowing future to emerge out of the violence and misery’ . Lenin by going this was able to raise an Army of over 5 million men, a strong and powerful fighting force that was led by professional and experience officer corp that produced overwhelming force against their opponents on the battlefield.

The major factor at play in the Bolshevik victory over their reactionary counterparts was the scientific organisational principle of democratic centralism for the Red Army. This principle not only gave the ordinary workers and peasants a say in the decisions making process but also ensured a unity of purpose and action after the outcome it. According to Mawdsley it was the Bolshevik leader Lenin who stated that it was the ‘centralism, discipline and unparalleled self-sacrifice’ of the Red Army helped them achieve victory in the Civil War .

The Red Army had started out as a small force of industrial workers in northern and central Russia but by the autumn of 1920 it had expanded to a conscript army of more than 5 million with 75 per cent of these coming from their peasant class . According to Figes the most important factor in the Red Army’s victory over its White Army counterparts was its ‘mobilising millions of peasants for military service’ .

The main failure by the forces of reaction occurred due to the speed and volume of which they attempted to conscript the peasantry into their ranks as well as the class bias of the former Tsarist officers . Just as Lenin had predicted the mass mobilisation of the peasants into the White ranks caused major disruption within the White Army with issues revolving around the mass desertion of peasants who wished to return home at the first available time.

An example of the problems faced by the White Army can be seen with the problems that plagued its southern forces. This army was made up of two main groups, the Cossacks and a group of former Tsarist Officers who led a volunteer army. These former officers were one of the most socially conservative groups in Russia and had a class based hatred for the Bolsheviks and all that they stood which alienated many potential supporters. The officers also wished to see the Tsarist regime returned and saw the struggle as a solely military affair and did not attempt to play a role in the winning of support of Russia’s lower classes or ethnic minorities.

The Cossacks however differed from their fellow White Amy counterparts by not wishing to see the return of the old regime. The Cossacks were fighting for more self-autonomy in any future federated Russia as well as fighting to help protect their own privileged status in South Russian Society from the Bolshevik’s were threatening to confiscate their land and hand it over to the local peasants. The privileged approach of the Cossacks led the peasantry of South Russia to support to the Bolshevik cause which promised them social mobility and joined the Red Army en masse to fight against the White Armies and the foreign supporters.

To add to these troubles the distrust that grew between the Cossacks and the former Tsarist Officers based upon their differing agendas grew to such an extent that it seemed like there would be an outbreak of civil war between them. According to Kerez, ‘Many of the Cossacks regarded the officers as unwelcome guest... the generals and colonels… thought of the Cossacks as little better than bandits, people who interpreted the concept of military booty far too broadly’ . These difficulties in the White camp aided the Bolshevik cause especially in the Northern Don areas which suffered several rebellions both from both its Cossacks and peasants which distracted the attention of the White Army away7 from the front line in the Civil War.

The difference in the White ranks was due to several reasons the politics of its personalities, some due to ethnic origins of the groups involved as was the case for the Cossacks and Ukrainians. Some was also due to the White Army having to reform itself and compromise its principles to fit in with the agenda of its foreign sponsors. The unity of Bolshevik’s constructed the petty rivalries that caused divisions in the White Army that divided the Tsarist Officers from their local hosts.

The scientific ideology of the Bolshevik’s, however was seen as a better social movement when compared the proto-fascist beliefs of the White’s by Russia’s lower classes that made up the major of her population. The scientific socialism of the Bolsheviks attracted the support of not only the working class, but also the intelligentsia and the peasants of the outlying regions as well as the ethnic minorities with whom the White Armies refused to work with.

According to Kerez the White’s made little effort to attempt to win over the owe classes due to their chauvinistic conservative and populist prejudices. As Kerez stated ‘their instinctive hostility toward the working class, coupled with their lack of political sophistication’ prevented them from forming alliances with other groups dissatisfied with the Bolshevik rule and which could have provided them with much needed allies .

The Bolsheviks throughout most of the Civil War controlled the central Russian territory which had Russians as its major nationality group. It was these parts of Greater Russia that contained the Russian industrial sector as well as the apparatus of the former Tsarist State including its Army. As well it was home to Russia to the largest cities Moscow and St Petersburg and the vast majority of Russia’s working classes. Mawdsley describes the holding of these areas of the Russian heartland as the Red Army as a ‘decisive achievement of the Civil War’. The holding of the Russian industrial heartland led to the Red Army to having numerical superiority on the battlefield as well as giving the Bolshevik’s a political economy to help fund the development of an army.

Another factor in contributing to the loss of the White Army in the Civil War was there acceptance of direct Foreign Imperial support so close after the tragedy of Russian human and territorial losses in WWI. Foreign support to the White Army was of such a haphazard manner that it actually had a negative impact upon the White Army’s war effort. This was exemplified by the British War Office not informing its own Foreign Office that it had sent two divisions into Russia without any consideration as to what role these soldiers should assume in the war.

The foreign imperial powers of Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States started their intervention in Russia without a declaration of war. The English and French landed at Archangel and Murmansk, the Japanese occupied Vladivostok, in the Northern Caucus region the British and French installed a government makeup of its own officers. In the Don region the Cossack were being supported by the Germans and in the middle Volga region the British and French were sponsoring the Czech legion. To add to this the Germans had taken part of the Ukraine’s and had invited the White Army’s to set up a base in the territory. The German and Turks had also sent in troops into the Caucus and sought to supply to the Southern White Army and the Cossacks of the Don with both arms and military support.

The greatest problem facing foreign forces in Russia however was the lack of intelligence coming from Bolshevik held areas due to there failure to establish embassies and other diplomatic posts after the end of WWI. The British also erred though it’s setting up of a government if the Caucus region made up solely of British officers which helped provide the Bolshevik government with a propaganda and recruitment tool for the building of the Red Army. As a result the foreign intervention Russian nationalists of all classes rushed to join into the ranks of the Red Army who saw foreign forces on Russia soil as a greater threat than the ideology of the Bolsheviks.

The intervention by foreign armies effectively isolated the Bolshevik held industrial areas from the agricultural regions. The occupation of Russian soil also brought the factories of Russia’s two major industrial cities St Petersburg and Moscow to a stand still. It caused a shortage of food for millions of Russians in the lower classes as well as causing the shutdown of Russia industrial sector with the associated lay off of the Russian working classes which resulted in very severe living circumstances for the Russian people. There resulted a desperate struggle for survival by Russia’s working class with the foreign invaders and the upper class collaborators being blamed. This led the conflict being transformed from a Civil War into a struggle for the survival of under the banner of War Communism.

To combat the threats to Russian Society the Bolshevik’s developed the principle of War Communism in which the government took absolute control of Russia’s political economy. These measures included the government controlling manufacturing and the output of agricultural production as well as fixing prices and banning private trading. It also included the government introducing universal labour controls including the distribution of labour and the introduction of conscription to the Red Army. In this way Lenin and the Bolsheviks prepared Russia and her people to fight a war against both the foreign imperial powers and the upper echelons of its own society. This approach to governance that still exists today despite the fall from power of the Communist Party in 1991.

The Bolshevik open approach to explaining objectives in fighting the Civil War was contrasted by the White Armies failed to declare what there objectives for fighting the war were and thus failed to build a repore with the Russian people. Hudson stated the main problem of the White Army was that ‘they had no agreed political programme to put to the people of Russia as a possible alternative to Bolshevism’ . As Hill stated ‘The fundamental cause of the Russian Revolution, then was the incompatibility of the tsarist state with the demands of modern civilisation’ and it was these failures by the White Army to adapt to the modernisation of Russian society that ultimately led to their defeat at the hands hands of Lenin and his Bolsheviks.

So therefore in conclusion there were several interconnected reasons for the Bolshevik victory and the White Army defeat in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921. The first and most important reason was the leadership of the Bolshevik Party by Lenin and the Bolshevik Party as the Vanguard of the people whose government and modernise a Russian Society as well as providing social mobility for the Russian working and peasant classes. This led the Bolshevik’s to win the support of these classes who formed the backbone of the five million man strong Red Army. The White Army by contrast was disinterested in associating with these classes and their attempts to conscript Russian peasantry in their military ranks caused more problems than they solved for the White Army.

The Bolsheviks were also aided by the holding of the interior region which contained Russia’s two largest cities St Petersburg and Moscow and its industrial sector. It was also home to the former bases of the Tsarist Army which provided the Bolsheviks with armouries and access to a trained fighting force. The intervention of foreign imperialists on the Russia’s flanks transformed the Civil War in Russia into a war for National Liberation which helped the Bolsheviks win the support of Russian patriots and build up an army of more than 5 million. It was this sheer size of the Red Army that in the end provided the Red Army with the ability to overwhelm it opponents both domestic and foreign on the battlefield which through its size, dedication and the superiority of its vibrant and scientific ideology defeated not the foreign imperialist abut also the Russian class collaborators of the White Army.