Login *:
Password *:


10-08-2015, 16:36

The Civil War

The Bolshevik seizure of power in Petrograd (soon to be renamed Leningrad after Lenin’s death in 1924) was only the first, and not necessarily the most difficult, stage in the Russian Revolution. Although the Bolshevik slogan of “Peace, Land, and Bread” had earned considerable appeal among workers, petty merchants, and soldiers in the vicinity of the capital and other major cities, the party— only fifty thousand strong in October—had little representation in the rural areas, where the moderate leftist Social Revolutionary Party received majority support from the peasants. On the fringes of the Russian Empire, ethnic minority groups took advantage of the confusion in Petrograd to launch movements to restore their own independence or achieve a position of autonomy within the Russian state. In the meantime, supporters of the deposed Romanov dynasty and other political opponents of the Bolsheviks attempted to mobilize support to drive the Bolsheviks out of the capital and reverse the verdict of “Red October.” And beyond all that, the war with Germany continued. Lenin was aware of these problems and hoped that a wave of socialist revolutions in the economically advanced countries of central and western Europe would bring the world war to an end and usher in a new age of peace, socialism, and growing economic prosperity. In the meantime, his first priority was to consolidate the rule of the working class and its party vanguard (now to be renamed the Communist Party) in Russia. The first step was to set up a new order in Petrograd to replace the provisional government that itself had been created after the February Revolution. For lack of a better alternative, outlying areas were simply informed of the change in government— a “revolution by telegraph,” as Leon Trotsky termed it. Then Lenin moved to create new organs of proletarian power, setting up the Council of People’s Commissars to serve as a provisional government. Lenin was unwilling to share power with moderate leftists who had resisted the Bolshevik coup in October, and he created security forces (popularly called the Cheka, or “extraordinary commission”), which imprisoned and sometimes executed opponents of the new regime. In January 1918, the Constituent Assembly, which had been elected on the basis of plans established by the previous government, convened in Petrograd. Composed primarily of delegates from the Social Revolutionary Party and other parties opposed to the Bolsheviks, it showed itself critical of the new regime and was immediately abolished. In foreign affairs, Lenin’s first major decision was to seek peace with Germany in order to permit the new government to focus its efforts on the growing threat posed by White Russian forces within the country. In March 1918, a peace settlement with Germany was reached at Brest-Litovsk, although at enormous cost. Soviet Russia lost nearly one-fourth of the territory and one-third the population of the prewar Russian Empire. In retrospect, however, Lenin’s controversial decision to accept a punitive peace may have been a stroke of genius, for it gained time for the regime to build up its internal strength and defeat its many adversaries in the Russian Civil War (1918–1920). The White Russian forces were larger than those of the Red Army; they were supported by armed contingents sent by Great Britain, France, and theUnited States to assist in the extinction of the “Red menace”; but they were also rent by factionalism and hindered by the tendency of White Russian leaders to return conquered land to the original landowners, thus driving many peasants to support the Soviet regime. By 1920, the civil war was over, and Soviet power was secure.