What led the Bolsheviks to power? Many historians believe that without Trotsky’s crucial role ‘Lenin’s revolution’ would never have succeeded. Trotsky was a mastermind on the battlefield most renowned for his contribution as war commissar. Yet when it came to politics Trotsky was second to none; he had a profound sense of administrative work and was said to be the ‘best’ orator of the time. His key role as one of the Bolshevik leaders was immense; he was the public face of the Bolsheviks. So how did his role change the course of History and lead the Bolsheviks to power? 917 was a torturous year for politics in Russia.
During the March revolution the Tsar, who was considered to be the ‘little farther of Russia’ was abdicated. This, in turn, set the foundations to which Trotsky and the Bolsheviks would seize power 8 months later. The Provisional government made up of Ex-Duma members took control of Russia after the Tsar was abdicated. The Provisional government was working with the Soviets made up of: sailors, soldiers and workers. The Provisional government made a calamitous blunder, in turn sending a seismic shudder to which they would collapse.
It was undoubtedly clear by listening to the allies by staying in the war the Provisional government made a huge error of judgement. By now everyone was fed up of the Provisional government, accordingly Kornilov the army leader assembled his troops. Kerensky the leader of the Provisional Government was in an impossible predicament. Consequently, Kerensky turned to the Bolsheviks for help. The Bolsheviks formulated themselves into ‘Trotsky’s creation’ the Red Guard. The scene was set for a bloody shoot-off, which ironically never occurred.
Kornilov’s army refused to confront the Red Guard. But it was hardly a victory for Kerensky because the Bolsheviks were now in a position to obtain power. Fundamentally, by allowing for the Red Guard to form Kerensky sealed the Provisional government’s fate, which led to the ‘Night of the revolution’. The Bolsheviks seized the ‘window of opportunity’. Vladimir Lenin set the date of the 6th of November, while Leon Trotsky the ‘military mastermind’ made the crucial preparations needed. The plan was expeditious and decisive; it required securing strategic buildings across Petrograd.
All this was happening while Trotsky gave a speech to the Petrograd Soviet. By the time the speech ended most of Petrograd was in Bolshevik hands just as Trotsky planned it to be. Trotsky ordered his Red Guard to take over: telephone buildings, telegraph buildings, power stations, capture bridges and even the rail stations. In essence blocking off all lines of communication and methods to flee the city. The following day the Red Guards took over government buildings and banks. By 7th of November Petrograd was cut-off from Russia. Only the iconic Winter Palace remained out of Bolshevik jurisdiction.
They were waiting for the sign that came from the battleship ‘Aurora’ as it fired a shell signalling for the attack to commence. The Red Guards move in on the Winter Palace, they encounter no resistance. The attack was short-lived. The Provisional government was forced to surrender. By the end of the day the Bolsheviks controlled Petrograd. Trotsky was successful in leading the Bolsheviks on the ‘Night of the revolution’. It just shows the determination and skill of Trotsky had in using ingenious tactics to secure Petrograd and not allowing for the Provisional Government to flee. Now Trotsky and the Bolsheviks had power.
The Bolsheviks passed some laws and set up the Cheka (secret police) to deal with anti-revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks had to keep the promise the Provisional government made about having free elections for a Constituent Assembly. The Bolsheviks held the elections late 1917 as promised; if they did not hold the elections it was feared another revolt may take place. As feared by the Bolsheviks they didn’t get the majority of seats. The Socialist Revolutionary party got the majority. This was a big blow for the Bolsheviks as it would be hard for them to pass laws. Likewise Trotsky’s Red Guard was ordered to disperse the Assembly.
Lenin used the excuse that the Constituent Assembly represented the old system. It was the first and the last time they met. This gave way to the Bolshevik dictatorship. For Russia to become a prosperous nation they had to draw out of the First World War. It was vital if the Bolshevik revolution was to be secure. Leon Trotsky played a significant role in making peace. Trotsky was reluctant to negotiate a peace treaty with Germany. Trotsky was confident that communism would erupt all over the Globe. Trotsky decided to offer Germany Russia’s demobilisation and to end the war, but would not settle for a peace treaty.
In doing so he thought he would buy time for Russia as many people believed that America would enter and conclude the war. For this reason Trotsky tried to delay reaching a settlement. This just goes to show Trotsky’s immense political capabilities however unwillingly the treaty was signed. Lenin had promised an end to the war. Now the party had to deliver or face the consequences. Trotsky therefore settled this dispute by signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Russia lost: one third of their European land including the ‘bread basket’ Ukraine and on top of that pay a 300 million Rouble fine.
It was a testament to how far Trotsky would go to safeguard the revolution. On top of that many Bolsheviks believed that Russia would gain some of her land back when Germany looses the war. Thus now the Bolsheviks were free to deal with matters in Russia herself. Without a doubt the Bolsheviks were going to make foes due to the changes they made, hence the reason the Cheka was formed to tackle ‘Counter-revolutionaries’. But Russia was about to be invoked into a civil war lasting from 1918-1921, which will earn Trotsky his reputation as a military genius.
The Civil war occurred because after the ‘Night of the revolution’ many groups opposed the Bolsheviks. These groups of people were known as The Whites in contrast to the Bolshevik Reds. The Whites were made up of: Socialist Revolutionaries who wanted the Constituent Assembly back; the Mensheviks who opposed the Bolsheviks; Aristocrats who lost land and wealth to the state and the Czechs who wanted an independent state. All these groups along with the Allies formed The Whites. The Bolshevik Red Guard was heavily outnumbered; this is where Trotsky played a vital role in using his ingenuity to make the Red Army.
So why did the Bolsheviks win the Civil war, even though the odds were against them? Much of this credit goes to Trotsky he was a phenomenal War Commissar. He was untrained in Military matters, Trotsky was a natural leader. He had a simple solution: if a solider was successful in battle they would be promoted or pay the price of failure; Trotsky was willing to use Ex-Tsarist officers as Trotsky knew they had military experience; he would arrest the families of his commanders to make sure they would command properly otherwise there family would have been executed and Trotsky would be at the frontlines on his iconic War Train giving commands.
Trotsky also had the job of recruiting soldiers into the army. He would go around on his War Train giving people reasons to join the army. One of these reasons is ‘War Communism’ which allows the state to take grain from farmers; Trotsky had strict orders for this because keeping the army fed could be the difference between winning and loosing. This was one major factor in turning the ‘tide of the war’; many peasants started to join the Red Army because they would at least have food and not suffer from famine. Secondly Trotsky would use propaganda to his advantage with the use of agit-props.
They would suggest to the Russian people that letting The Whites win is just going back to the old system. With the visuals of agit-props the Red Army spread communist ideas rapidly making more people enlist in the army. This saw the growth of the Red Army from 300k to 5 million by 1921. This was decisive factor in winning the war as the Bolsheviks were now in a better position. Hence Trotsky had achieved in building up an army furthermore he was able to feed them, but who to fight? The Whites were spread thinly across Russia they had amassed into several armies.
The Whites were divided. They did not work together to surround the Bolshevik controlled heartland but instead fought one by one. The Whites were un-coordinated so they couldn’t stay in touch hence having no intelligence. Another blow to the Whites campaign was the withdrawal of the allied forces due to the end of the First World War. Thus Trotsky had ‘Lady Luck’ on his side and could pick off The Whites one by one eventually ending the Civil War. This was truly Trotsky’s ‘Finest hour’. He ensured the ‘safeguard’ of the revolution earning him the reputation of a strong military leader.
Through hard discipline and brilliant leadership, Trotsky’s Red Army defeated The Whites ending the Civil War. With the Civil war drawing to a close many now believed the revolution was truly secure. However, this sigh of relief was short lived. The Krondstadt Naval Base mutinied this was an immense shock. The Krondstadt sailors were the Bolsheviks supporters from 1905, it is them that helped the Bolsheviks on the ‘Night of the revolution’ and now they are going against the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks were worried that this dissent might spread across Russia.
This is because if the Krondstadt sailors have been pushed too far, it was only a matter of time before the country rose up against them. Trotsky was tasked to put an abrupt end to the revolt. The Red Army charged at the Navel Base, securing it after a gruesome battle in which many Reds lost their lives. All this fighting because the sailors just wanted War Communism to end, so that their families back home would not starve to death due to the famine. Trotsky had recognised this earlier suggesting communism was moving ‘too fast’ and needed a change of policy.
Therefore to ‘keep control’ of the public opinion Lenin introduced the New Economic Plan. This plan was to restore order and prosperity after all the harsh years of war. Now the revolution was secure. Hence without Trotsky the Bolsheviks couldn’t have succeeded. Trotsky played a key role on: the ‘Night of the revolution’; the closing of the Constituent Assembly; making peace with Germany; putting an end to the Civil war and putting down the Krondstadt rebellion. All this would have never been accomplished if it wasn’t for the sheer determination and genius of Leon Trotsky. He was indeed a ‘Professional Revolutionary’.