I have been reviewing old and new material on the Russian Civil War and it keeps bringing me back to the same question, namely:
Why did the Reds win?
The odds were certainly stacked against them. Lenin quickly imposed one-party rule, stamped out democratic institutions and civil rights, all ruthlessly carried out by the Cheka
secret police. The Bolsheviks were painted as "foreign" by the whites because most of their leaders were jewish. The Bolshevik's economic policies led to a collapse of the industrial and financial sector, widespread unemployment and a migration from the main cities. Their "grain requisition" policies ignited widespread peasant rebellions.
The Red Army was started from scratch in 1918 with raw conscripts, most of which were peasants. Most of the officers were ex-Tsarist army officers whose loyalty was questionable. It was short of all kinds of weapons, equipment and supplies. It was beaten hands down by the Polish army in 1920, which itself was only created in 1918.
Based on all that, the Bolsheviks should have quickly lost all popular support, the Red Army should have had massive desertions, the ranks of the White Armies should have been swelled by tens of thousands of volunteers to liberate mother Russia from the Red oppressors and they should have swept through the demoralized Red soldiers to recapture Petrograd and Moscow. And yet..the Communists won.
I can think of a few theories:
theory #1. The Reds were more ruthless.
one theory is that the Bolsheviks were much more ruthless than their enemies, had no qualms about killing anyone who stood in their way and won because of that. While true, there are some problems with that theory. First, the White forces were also very violent in putting down peasant rebellions and executing Red prisoners. It certainly was not a "white glove" war. Secondly, terror alone does not win wars. In WW2, the Germans unleashed a reign of terror on occupied Soviet territory without ever totally controlling it.
theory #2. The Reds were more popular.
Another theory is that the Reds represented popular opinion and had popular support. Although they may have had a certain amount of good will in oct. 1917, the actions of Lenin and co would have quickly turned off everyone but the most committed communist believer. Considering that in 1917, the Bolsheviks only had 45,000 members out of a population of 167 million, that is a small number of people.
theory #3. The Reds were the lesser of two evils.
One theory which seems to make the most sense to me is that the Reds, while not necessarily being popular were seen as more palatable than the Whites. The Reds, for better or worse, were still seen as a movement which promised a better future after the war while the Whites represented a return to the past. While all the emphasis in history books is put on the urban worker class, it seems to me that the peasants were the key to winning the war.
During the RCW, about 80% of the population was rural. Literacy among adults was around 40%, presumably higher in the cites and lower in the country. The average peasant would have been semi-literate and rarely traveled away from his native village. They were happy that the Reds had broken up the big estates and parcelled out the lots, but were unhappy with the "grain requisitioning. On the other hand, a white victory could have brought back the big landowners to reclaim their lands from the peasants. So perhaps the Reds were seen as the lesser of two evils which is why their sons continued to fight in the Red Army. Some support for this comes from the fact that once the NEP was brought in 1921 and "grain requisitioning" was scrapped in favout of a tax, all the peasant rebellions faded away.
just my 2 kopecks.