Why did the Bolsheviks Win the Russian Civil War?

Peter Anderson compares the tactics and resources of the two sides.

Bolshevik (1920) by Boris Kustodiev.

Reds versus Whites: an Overview

At one point during the Civil War, Leon Trotsky, the leader of the Communist Red Army, became so amused by the black market trading of weapons by his opponents, the Whites, that he sent a letter to his enemies thanking them for their help in supplying the Red Army.

The story speaks volumes about the failures of the corrupt White forces, for whom the heavy consumption of vodka and cocaine became commonplace. The dissolute lifestyle did not help White tactics: even a White minister of war declared that the White Army was characterised by 'ignorance and incompetence'. This contempt seemed to rub off on those who, in theory, were supporting the Whites. The British military official attached to the White forces became so disillusioned that he grew indifferent to the White fate and stated the cause was not 'worth the life of one British soldier'. The British prime minister, David Lloyd George, became so unwilling to fund the Whites that he declared he would rather see 'Russia Bolshevik than Britain bankrupt'. In any case the degree of attention that Lloyd George was prepared to devote to the issue must be subject to question, as he was to mistake the town of Kharkov for what he believed to be the name of a White general.

Perhaps the biggest failure of the Whites was to ignore the demands for land of the peasantry, who made up 80 per cent of the population. As one of Kolchak's generals complained, the Whites failed to 'give the peasant the bird in the hand; they were even afraid to promise him the bird in the bush'.

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