Trotsky and the Russian Civil War



This chapter argues that Trotsky’s organisational abilities won the civil war for the Bolsheviks, but that aspects of the organisational principles he used were thoroughly un-Bolshevik and foreshadowed the disputes of the 1920s which would ultimately see him removed from the Bolshevik hierarchy. Starting at the Sviyazhsk campaign on the Volga in August 1918, but continuing throughout the civil war, Trotsky’s skills as organiser and inspirer turned the prospect of defeat into victory. Yet his insistence on using military specialists and limiting the Party’s voice when it came to strategy and tactics, led him into a running confrontation with the other Bolshevik leaders, who repeatedly sought ways to extend Party control into the army. In Sviyazhsk Trotsky addressed all the major issues of the civil war. For him it then became simply a matter of generalising from the experience gained on the Volga to every other front of the civil war. This chapter therefore considers Sviyazhsk in some detail, before turning to the conflicts Trotsky faced in persuading the Party that the lessons he had learned there were indeed correct.


Central Committee General Staff Individual Charge Soviet Policy Military Specialist 
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Copyright information

© Geoffrey Swain 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LondonUK

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