During the Civil War of 1918 to 1920, Leon Trotsky became a prominent military leader for the Bolsheviks. He has been credited with forming the Red Army from virtually nothing, and of managing the entire Russian Communist war machine by use of superb tactical skills and propaganda.
In the early days of the war, Lenin placed Trotsky in control of the Bolshevik forces and appointed him “Commissar of War”. Trotsky initially described the Red Army as a “flabby, panicky mob”, and was quick to make changes. He is most remembered for his strict discipline: Anyone who disobeyed orders, or deserted their posts, would be shot. This was in strict contrast to the whites, who had little or no discipline at all and were constantly squabbling amongst themselves. Indeed, most of Trotsky’s success could arguably owe more to the incompetence of the whites than to his own brilliance – that is, the tactics which led to the Reds doing so well stand out principally because the White tactics were so poor. Whereas the Whites had multiple armies in a weak alliance, the Reds were unified in their aims. While the White leaders were drunk and disorderly, the Reds had strict disciplinary measures. The Whites had little or no communication, the Reds had Trotsky’s war train to carry orders and news.
All of this begs the question of whether the Bolsheviks would still have has the upper hand without Trotsky’s involvement. Certainly, the Commissar of War played an important role, personally directing practically the entire war. We must, however, acknowledge that the Bolsheviks had many other factors on their side, and so perhaps Trotsky’s strategies, brilliant as they were, might not have been as essential as many remember. In fact, given how his career ended, it might have been all the better for him, too.