The October Revolution saw the Bolshevik party take over Russia. Those loyal to the Tsar and those against this sudden revolution rallied together and declared a Civil War. 

Bolshevik Bolshevik

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    Despite this opposition from all sides, the Bolsheviks would emerge triumphant. How did they manage this astonishing consolidation of power?

    Bolsheviks Meaning

    The Bolsheviks were a communist political party formed by Vladimir Lenin. The Bolsheviks were originally part of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDWP), founded by Lenin in 1898. Just five years later the RSDWP split into two: the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The Bolshevik Party was officially founded in 1912.


    An economic ideology which rejected private property and a profit-based economy. Instead, it favoured community ownership of resources. It derives from the Latin communis meaning "common" or "shared".

    Riots and protests across the country led to the Tsar's abdication in February 1917. A provisional government made up of liberal members of the nobility set up a Provisional Government. However, the emergency conditions of World War One meant that the Provisional Government was slow to create a new constitution and enact change. Their inaction helped the Bolsheviks rise to power.

    Bolshevik Kustodiev painting of Bolshevik Revolution 1917 StudySmarterFig. 1 - Painting by Boris Kustodiev from 1920 shows his interpretation of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. The Red communist banner is shown throughout the city, uniting the people in revolution.

    When the Bolsheviks seized power in the October Revolution in 1917, they soon formed a coalition with another Communist political party, the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. This coalition would lead the Soviet Government. The Bolsheviks purged their political opponents, the Mensheviks and the Right Socialist Revolutionaries.

    Bolshevik vs Menshevik

    What did the Bolsheviks stand for? How were they different from their one-time allies, the Mensheviks? And how did they manage to get rid of the Mensheviks once and for all?

    Led by Lenin, the Bolsheviks followed a political ideology of democratic centralism. This meant that the Bolshevik party consisted of professional revolutionaries and was, therefore, an exclusive, closed group. The party would then elect a Central Committee which would make the decisions.

    Did you know? Lenin wanted to transform Russia from a feudalist to a socialist society, skipping the traditional capitalist stage. A small group of professionals would therefore lead the revolution on behalf of the peasants and proletariat (the workers). This ideology was known as Marxist-Leninism.

    The Bolsheviks were originally part of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDWP) with the Mensheviks. In 1903, the Bolsheviks gained a temporary majority of the votes within the RSDWP Central Committee. Lenin seized this opportunity to call his group the "Bolsheviks" meaning "those of the majority". Meanwhile, the other camp was labelled "Mensheviks" meaning "those of the minority", despite the fact that the two groups were fairly evenly matched at the time.


    The Mensheviks were led by Julius Martov and they believed that the RSDWP should have democratic discussions and an open membership so that anyone could join the party. The Mensheviks did not agree with Lenin's idea of going straight from feudalism to socialism. The Mensheviks believed Russia was not yet ready for a workers' revolution. They argued that a period of middle-class democratic government was needed before transitioning towards socialism.

    Bolshevik Photograph of julius martov StudySmarterFig. 2 - Photograph of Julius Martov.

    This meant that although they did not ideologically support the liberal Provisional Government, they supported it as a stepping stone towards socialism.

    Did you know? The Mensheviks believed that Russia should undergo a capitalist period to increase the size of the proletariat (workers) before another revolution towards socialism. The Mensheviks believed that the proletariat needed to develop their voice within effective trade unions in order to transform the country. These were the original ideas of Karl Marx.

    In the opening session of the Soviet Congress in October 1917, after the Bolsheviks seized power, the Mensheviks walked out in protest and refused to vote. This act meant that the Bolsheviks and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries gained a significant majority and could easily seize control of Soviet Russia.

    The Bolsheviks soon excluded and chipped away at the power of its rival parties. In June 1918, the Right Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks were removed from the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. Forbidden, scattered, and imprisoned, the Mensheviks were unable to form a cohesive body and were officially dissolved in 1921.

    Russian Civil War

    With the Mensheviks destroyed, new opponents emerged against the Bolsheviks. These opponents were called the "Whites" and were made up of anti-Communists and Tsarist supporters. The Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) party split between the two civil war factions, with those on the right of the party joining the "Whites", while those on the left of the party supporting the Bolsheviks, the "Reds".

    Here is an overview of the Red and White factions during the Russian Civil War:

    GroupsBolsheviks, Left Socialist Revolutionaries, and the Mensheviks. Provisional Government (Octobrists and Kadets), Tsarists, and Right Socialist Revolutionaries.
    BeliefsBolsheviks who believed in an exclusive committee to implement Communism.Left Socialist Revolutionaries who wanted peasants to own their own land, and to develop industry and create a working-class in Russia.Mensheviks who believed in a gradual approach towards a democratic socialism. They were exiled or imprisoned by 1921. Provision Government wanted the former nobility to govern as ministers. The Tsar would have limited powers by the elected government.Tsarists who only wanted to reinstate the Tsar. They were anti-socialists, so only worked with the socialists until they could be purged.Right Socialist Revolutionaries who supported the Provisional Government. Similarly to Mensheviks, they believed it was too soon for a socialist revolution.
    View on World War OneAgainst the WarSupported the War

    Bolshevik Consolidation of Power

    Here are the 4 key areas for Bolshevik consolidation of power:

    1. Petrograd - the old capital under the Tsar.

    2. Moscow - the new capital under the Bolsheviks.

    3. Ukraine - part of Russia's access to the Black Sea to the south.

    4. Trans Siberian Railway - the key military and grain supply route.

    In March 1918, the Bolsheviks relocated the Russian capital from Petrograd to Moscow. That made Moscow a key target for the Bolshevik enemies, the White Army.

    Did you know? The Bolsheviks fought against the Whites on a total of sixteen different fronts!

    Let's look at these areas of power and how the Reds managed to defend them from the Whites.

    Bolshevik Consolidation of Power Petrograd

    General Yudenich was a former Tsar's Imperial Army commander and had forces stationed in Estonia, then part of Russia. Yudenich decided to march his army to Petrograd to capture it from the Bolsheviks. On his way to Petrograd, Yudenich attempted to capture the Trans Siberian Railway but failed.

    Trans Siberian Railway

    The railway connecting Russia from the east to the west. It was built in 1904 and was a key grain and military supply route. It is now the longest railway in the world.

    Similarly, Yudenich's attempt to take back Petrograd from the control of the Bolsheviks failed. He was defeated by the Bolshevik's Red Army.

    Bolshevik Consolidation of Power Moscow

    Alexandr Kolchak was a naval officer for the Tsar during World War One. When the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, Kolchak began assembling a White Army in Omsk, a city to the southeast of Moscow.

    Britain and America supported Kolchak, hoping he would defeat the Bolshevik government. In November 1918, Kolchak organised a coup d'etat and established a military dictatorship in Omsk.

    Coup d'etat

    A forceful seizure of power by one political party or dictator.

    But Kolchak's military dictatorship was unpopular in Omsk. He regarded all Socialist Revolutionaries, even those who did not support the Bolsheviks, as part of the Red faction, and led anti-socialist purges. When Kolchak and his army marched toward Moscow, the Red Army defeated him and forced him to retreat.

    Bolshevik Photograph of Admiral Alexandr Kolchak StudySmarterFig. 3 - Photograph of Kolchak.

    The Socialist Revolutionaries quickly overthrew the defeated Kolchak. In January 1920 they handed him over to the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks executed him a month later.

    Bolshevik Consolidation of Power Ukraine

    General Anton I. Denikin was the commander of the Tsar's Volunteer Army. It was a small yet strong, well-trained force. They had been stationed near Ukraine, which during World War One had changed hands from Russia to Germany and then to brief self-rule. This self-rule was under the socialist Symon Petlyura who wanted Ukrainian independence.

    Bolshevik Photograph of General Anton Denikin 1917 StudySmarterFig. 4 - Photograph of Tsar supporter General Denikin.

    The Red Army invaded Ukraine in 1918 and took control of major cities. They established a Bolshevik puppet government in Kharkov. But a year later, General Denikin invaded Ukraine and drove out most of the Bolsheviks as well as the Ukrainian nationalists.

    In April 1920, Denikin resigned his position and General Wrangel assumed the command of the Volunteer Army. Wrangel gathered local peasant support and launched a new offensive, occupying parts of Ukraine and the Kuban Steppes. However, another Red Army counter-attack drove them south. Wrangel's troops fought off the Reds enough to allow 150,000 soldiers and civilians to evacuate by sea to Constantinople. This marked the defeat of the Whites within the territory of Ukraine.

    Bolshevik Consolidation of Power Trans Siberian Railway

    The Czechoslovak Legion was a small army made of soldiers from Czech and Slovak, areas that were ruled by Austria Hungary at the time. In World War One, Austria Hungary had forced these men to fight against Russia. In protest, they allowed themselves to be captured by Russia and formed the Czechoslovak Legion in 1916.

    The Bolsheviks had promised the Czechoslovak Legion safe passage to France after World War One, to reward their surrender. However, after the punishing Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, the Bolsheviks had to go back on their word and arrest the Legion, causing huge protest from the Legion.

    Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

    The Bolsheviks opposed World War One and the starvation and poverty it had led to in Russia. Lenin wished to pull out of the War. He signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany and Austria-Hungary to cease hostilities. Austria-Hungary demanded back the traitorous Czech and Slovak nationals as part of this agreement.

    In May 1918, the Legion revolted against the Bolsheviks and occupied Chelyabinsk, a station on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Czechoslovak Legion then travelled along the railway occupying cities as they went. In the summer of 1918, the Bolsheviks had lost control of most of Siberia due to the Czechoslovak Legion. By December 1919, the Czechoslovak Legion had left Russia for the newly independent Czechoslovakia, allowing the Bolsheviks to re-consolidate their power.

    Bolshevik Leadership

    The Bolsheviks consolidated their power during the Civil War through strong and decisive leadership. The two main leaders of the Bolshevik Party were Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.

    Lenin managed most of the domestic consolidation of power through his creation of the Cheka, the secret police. Lenin also developed the political ideology at the heart of the Bolsheviks, Marxist-Leninism. However, it was Leon Trotsky who managed the Red Army and created a strong pro-Bolshevik force that would keep the White Army at bay.

    Bolshevik Leon Trotsky Image Red Army StudySmarterFig. 5 - Photograph of Leon Trotsky, leader of the Red Army.

    Originally, Trotsky was a Menshevik supporter. He was arrested in 1917 and became an official Bolshevik while imprisoned. Trotsky was made War Commissar (military commander) in 1918 and began reorganising the Red Army. This included conscripting thousands of peasants throughout Russia.

    Did you know? Under Trotsky, the Bolshevik army grew from 1 million soldiers in 1918 to 3 million by 1920.

    Bolshevik Red Army

    Trotsky's leadership transformed the Red Army into a strong, capable, and modern force. Trotsky understood that the clock was ticking and the Bolsheviks needed to grow their army. In a controversial move, he conscripted 250,000 soldiers who had been part of the Tsar's Imperial Army. Many believed these soldiers would desert or betray the Red Army. Trotsky created a system of overseers who watched every move of these soldiers, ensuring the pro-Tsarist soldiers' submission.

    Trotsky travelled around the country by train to support the front line troops. He massively inspired the different forces to fight for the Bolshevik cause. He also took personal command of areas that were under the most threat.

    The Bolsheviks emerged victorious in the Russian Civil War. Lenin and Trotsky had finally consolidated the Bolshevik's power. Lenin went on to create the Soviet Union in December 1922.

    Bolshevik Consolidation Of Power - Key Takeaways

    • The Bolsheviks took power of Russia in 1917 during the October Revolution.
    • The expulsion and imprisonment of the Mensheviks was the first instance of the Bolsheviks consolidating their power.
    • The Russian Civil War saw the formation of the Whites, made up of anti-Communists, those loyal to the Tsar, and socialists who believed this was not the right time for Revolution.
    • The Bolsheviks were attacked on multiple fronts: in Petrograd, Moscow, Ukraine, and along the Trans-Siberian Railway.
    • The strength of the Red Army, trained and organised by Leon Trotsky, meant that the Bolsheviks were successful against the Whites. This meant that Lenin was able to form the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1922. The Bolsheviks consolidation of power was complete.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Bolshevik

    What are the Bolsheviks?

    The Bolsheviks were a communist political party in Russia. Under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace in the 1917 October Revolution. During the subsequent Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks successfully held onto power.

    Why did the Bolsheviks win the Civil War?

    The Red Army had grown hugely after Leon Trotsky became War Commissar in 1918. The army grew from roughly 1 million in 1918 to 3 million in 1920. He conscripted peasants and travelled by train to rally troops and gain support for the Bolsheviks. The Whites on the other hand were chaotic as there was no clear narrative, and there was much in-fighting between Tsarists and the SRs.

    What did the Bolsheviks want?

    The Bolsheviks wanted to skip the capitalist stage of Marx's economic determinism and force a Feudalist Russia to undergo a revolution into a Socialist country.

    How did the Bolsheviks take power in Russia?

    The Bolsheviks led the October Revolution in 1917 and placed themselves in government with a coalition with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries (Left SRs). After the Left SRs gained a majority in the Constituent Assembly in January 1918, the Bolsheviks dissolved the Assembly and declared their dictatorial leadership of Russia. The Red Army was successful during the subsequent Russian Civil War, allowing the Bolsheviks to consolidate their power by 1922 with the founding of the Soviet Union.

    What does Bolshevik mean?

    Bolshevik means "those of the majority". The party got this name after temporarily gaining a majority representation on the RSDWP's newspaper's editorial board, the Iskra and the Central Committee. Menshevik, the opposing faction of the RSDWP, means "those of the minority".

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What political ideology did the Bolsheviks initially follow after the October Revolution?

    Which of the Russian Civil War combatants supported Russia's involvement in the First World War?

    What united the Whites?


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