Was Bolshevik victory in the Russian civil war largely due to the failure of their opponents rather than to their own successes?


There is some truth in the above statement, however it is important to recognise the strengths of the Red army and Communists, as although the Whites had certain weaknesses, the Communist’s still won the civil war. The way in which the Communist won the civil war reflected many of their strengths, which I will go on to, discuss. But the Whites did fail in their attempt to gain power due to a number of core reasons including the composition of the white forces, various ideologies and insufficient commitment to the cause. “ The whites were never more than an uncoordinated group of forces whose morale was seldom high. They were a collection of dispossessed socialists, liberals and moderates, whose political differences often led them into bitter disputes among themselves”[1] from this quote we can see the numerous weaknesses within the Whites which went on to help the Bolsheviks win the civil war. However on the whole it must be said although the Whites did have their problems the Communists and the Red Army fought a successful war and won it, thus although the Whites were a reason for the communist success the role that the Red army played must not be underestimated.


Some Historians have argued that there was a lack of commitment on behalf of the whites in the civil war. The cause of this civil war must be looked at if we are to discuss commitment of the whites. The Civil war was caused by the October revolution of 1917 and the seizure of power by the Communists and their commitment to remain in power and not let anyone else in power, this can be seen by a comment made by “Trotsky, replying to Martov who was urging the revolutionary party to form a coalition with the Menshiviks and the SR’s, ‘Your part is over. Go to the place where you now belong from now on the trash bin of history’”[2]. Although the quote from Trotsky highlights one reason for civil war another cause of the civil war was the famine mainly due to the first world war and the problem it caused there was a number of problems that were highlighted by the first world war which caused tension too, problems that were going to take time to be solved yet there was impatience. The problems that were ongoing in Russia does mean that there should have been commitment to the cause, however the white army had many desertions (although many armies suffered from this) the white armies found it more difficult to recruit and keep their ordinary soldiers than the reds. A lack of commitment to fight for the Whites was also caused by doubts on the land issue as many of the white generals were from the ruling class as “for them it was a question returning to the past and they tried to restore it in form and sprit”[3], the fact that certain White generals wanted to return to the past meant that many peasants would not support them and their allegiance was with the Bolsheviks and the red army. This shows that the whites had a lack of commitment and a central ideology also thus this may tell us why communist victory in the Russian civil war was largely due to the failure of their opponents.


Although there was a lack of commitment that was a reason for the White failure another important factor in the Whites defeat was a lack of co-operation. Although Pipes says “The ability of the whites to carry on against such overwhelming odds and at one point even to seem near victory suggests that, country to conventional wisdom it is they who had superior generalship and morale”[4] it is true of Pipes to say that they may have had more general this is mainly because generals were mainly from aristocratic backgrounds and thus were in opposition to the Bolshevik party, however it must not be mistaken the Whites did lack co-operation and commitment. Their mutual suspicions and their differing goals caused this. The White forces did not co-operate in their military planning, a reason for a lack of co-operation