How far do you agree that the brutality of the Bolsheviks was the main reason why they remained in power in the years 1917–24?

The Bolsheviks acted in a brutal manner during the year 1917-1924; however this was not the main reason why they remained in power during that time frame. Instead their survival can mostly be attributed to the weakness of their opposition, who displayed a lack of organisation and unification. There were other reasons for the Bolsheviks’ remaining in power between 1917 and 1924, such as the efficiency and strong leadership of the Bolsheviks, and their geographical advantages; but these were ultimately not as significant as the the weakness of their opposition, as their survival was dictated by how they exploited their enemies’ flaws.

The brutal methods employed by the Bolsheviks certainly helped the Bolsheviks to remain in power. The use of the Cheka was one such brutal method; it ensured that the Bolsheviks remained the dominant authority, by suppressing dissident activity through the use of terror. However the Bolsheviks were only able to do this because their opposition was too weak to rebel; the Bolsheviks had gained dominance, while all others were clearly weak and submissive. This meant that the Bolsheviks use of terror only had the effect of making a weak opposition even weaker, therefore this form of brutality was only successful due to an already weak opposition.

The Bolsheviks were also brutal with the treatment of supposed traitors within the red army. If someone in the red army was suspected of not being totally committed to the cause, they were often shot. But this wasn’t unique to the Bolsheviks; their opposition, especially the Whites, also exhibited many brutal tendencies, often towards traitors within their own ranks. So this kind of brutality was true of both the Bolsheviks and their opposition, which means that it was not really an advantage for the Bolsheviks, just another tactic employed by all forces; hence it was not a significant reason for the Bolsheviks remaining in power.

A temporary policy of the Bolsheviks that incorporated many elements of brutality was war communism. Through this policy many peasants got shot because they refused to hand over grain to the government; and many people, mostly outside the working class, were forced into manual labour. This was one aspect of the Bolsheviks brutality that did indeed help them to remain in power, as it improved their overall efficiency. Their efficiency was a notable factor for their survival, however the degree to which their efficiency made them successful was largely dependant on the state of their opponents; an efficiently run red army could easily defeat an disorganised opposition. But if the red army faced a unified, and organised opposition they would have experienced many problems, as the overall opposition outnumbered them. It was only due to various factions and splits that these opposing forces never united into a force that could rival the Bolsheviks, even if the Bolsheviks possessed the most efficient management.

The disunity of the Bolsheviks’ opposition was key to their survival; because the opposition was geographically dispersed and ideologically in conflict, they lacked the strength to defeat the Bolsheviks, which subsequently allowed the Bolsheviks to maintain their grip on power. One example of this is in the way that the opposition carried out their fights: each fight was initiated in separate locations, and at different points in time. This meant that the Bolsheviks could move in and defeat the opposition one by one, making their victory very easily achieved due to the opposition’s organisational weakness. The strategic failures of the opposition was only made worse by the fact that the various differing groups that composed the opposition to the Bolsheviks often fought amongst each other, making these already weak and small battles even more difficult as the opposition were not united in their ideological reasoning for rebelling against the Bolsheviks. Ukrainian Nationalists, for example, would fight both red and white forces, which acted only to weaken the position of the whites, and strengthen the position of the Bolsheviks. Even when the opposition did try to unite to some extent, it was made an incredibly difficult task because they were at a great disadvantage in terms of location and transport links.

The opposition was dispersed around Russia, with the land between being discontinuous, unlike the Bolsheviks who occupied a continuous stretch of land which greatly enhanced their organisational and communicative abilities. This meant that the opposition were not in one place, and could therefore not possess a strong central leadership like that which Bolsheviks had under Lenin. It also meant that the problem of lack of troops and supplies that the opposition experienced was made worse, as their was not the railway links or long stretches of continuous land needed to transport further troops or supplies. These problems put the opposition at a great disadvantage, and ultimately weakened their power greatly. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, experienced the exact opposite, and partly as a result of the oppositions weakness, the Bolsheviks had gained a great strength. Because of the disadvantageous position of the opposition, the Bolsheviks were able to remain in power by exploiting their opponents weaknesses to create political and strategic advantages for themselves.

The weakness of the opposition was the main reason why the Bolsheviks remained in power in the years 1917-1924. The Bolsheviks could successfully destroy an opposition which acted in individual partitions, never combining into a more unified force that like that of the Bolsheviks. This meant that by the time the civil war was over, the opposition had mostly been eliminated or suppressed, and those who were left were too weak to remove the political power of the Bolsheviks. However there were other reasons why the Bolsheviks remained in power, notably their commonplace brutality and centralised efficiency; but these elements were not a success by themselves, and were instead tools to manipulate the current weak situation of their opponents, which often had the effect of just making an already weak opposition even worse off. This growing weakness was in itself an inescapable cycle: the opposition would lose support and power as they could not mobilise enough troops or win enough battles; the less support they had (especially foreign support) the less troops and supplies they were given, which in turn meant that it was even harder to mobilise troops and win battles. This cycle caused a steep decline in their strength, despite initial successes being achieved. Hence the Bolsheviks had an incapable opposition, which subsequently meant the Bolsheviks could easily consolidate their governmental authority over Russia, and maintain this authority over the years 1917-1924.

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