Alternative for the Bolsheviks

The sources, when generalised in a group, seem to suggest that the Bolsheviks had to use force against the Whites and it is almost as if they had no other choice in the matter, as this was all they could do to ensure they won the Civil War. The Bolsheviks had to be ruthless and as efficient as possible at a time when the country was in great turmoil in order to establish their power and ensure that they would not be thrown out of power. Perhaps the only way that this was possible was with the use of brutal tactics, which would lead to many deaths, but would fulfil the aim of maintaining control over Russia.

Lewin, the author of ‘Lenin’s Last Struggle’ believes that only authoritarian procedures would give Russia the solutions it needed to the problems that it was currently experiencing. Whilst he thinks that Lenin didn’t seek to rule in such a brutal manner, it appears that it was the only choice he had due to the state of the country. Pipes, the author of source B, also talks of the society in which ‘extreme poverty and insecurity were the rule’, making it sound like the country needed discipline and somebody to really take control of things so that at least some of the current problems could be eradicated.

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Source A, taken from ‘Lenin and the Russian Revolution’ by Hill, also suggests that Russian society was certainly facing very difficult times, mentioning the ‘poor and the downtrodden’ and how he believes that the Russian Revolution did actually help them. The Bolshevik party sought to make examples of people, sending many thousands to their deaths, so that people in the future would be deterred by what they had already seen happen. It seems that Russia at this time needed the ‘orders, appointments and dismissals’ that were made by the Bolsheviks in order to resume some control over a country in which anarchy had accelerated rapidly and led to Civil War.

During the Civil War, both the Reds and the Whites used terror tactics on a wide scale to try and ensure that they were successful, often murdering people and using various forms of torture. The Bolshevik Cheka sought out individuals believed to be threatening the party in any form, leading to many arrests and executions, somewhere around 6300 in 1918 alone. Also, the policies that the Bolsheviks implemented towards the peasantry, such as collectivisation, created deep-rooted hatred of them and led to a large feeling of distrust towards Soviet power. The peasants actually used to rebel against the food requisitioning brigades, killing around 8000 of them in 1920, showing the feelings of hatred that they had towards the Soviets and their policies.

Source C is an extract from a letter written by Lenin to Trotsky, telling him that he should ‘not take pity on the city’ of Kazan but instead should ensure ‘merciless annihilation’ in order to establish Soviet power in the area. This source shows that Lenin was a ruthless leader who would stop at nothing in his scheme to control Russia, although he was a very popular man, shown by the hundreds of thousands who mourned his death. Source D shows that Lenin was widely respected, speaking of how his death would have an effect like ‘gigantic rocks falling to the sea’ on the minds of people. Perhaps this shows that even though he implemented terror tactics, it was almost accepted at the time because it was simply what the situation required.

When looking at the Civil War itself, there are many different reasons that can be put forward as to why it was won by the Bolsheviks, including amongst other things, the Red terror. The Cheka ensured discipline and it is thought that around 80,000 people were shot by them in 1918 alone, showing the harsh way in which they dealt with people. The Reds would shoot anybody deserting their forces in order to ensure loyalty to the cause. Although in many cases, people had already been brainwashed by the huge amounts of Communist propaganda that was spread at the time, believing that the Reds were fighting against the evils of Tsarism. There can be no denying that this propaganda made significant advantages for the Reds because it gave them a base of fanatically loyal supporters, who would do anything to ensure the Bolsheviks maintained control.

The Red Army also had a huge advantage in terms of size, with around 5 million men in 1920, it was almost ten times the size of the White forces. This large army was amassed using conscription in areas where the Communists dominated and meant that they had almost unlimited human resources to draw upon. Also Trotsky made sure that they were well led by former Tsarist officers and also turned industry production to the cause, ensuring they had the materials needed for the war effort. Trotsky himself was an inspiration to many of the Bolshevik officers and men and his dedication to the cause often inspired many of the people fighting for the Soviets. It is obvious that there is no definite reason as to why the Bolsheviks were able to win the Civil War, but it is actually due to a combination of many different reasons.

Using both my own knowledge and the evidence provided by the sources, it seems that there was little choice for the Bolsheviks but to use their terror tactics. If they had failed to assume any real authority in the country that was facing such troubled times, then they would have been overrun by a more powerful party that was more popular with the people. The country was in such turmoil that it needed discipline and authority, and it was the Bolshevik party that would provide this, with Lenin being a hugely influential figure at the helm. However, it seems that whilst terror tactics played a large part in the war, there were more important reasons as to why they won the Civil War, because both sides were implementing these ideas. The Bolsheviks, however, had not only a larger army that was also well equipped, but they also had dedicated members and strong leaders who could ensure loyalty by one way or another.