Trotsky’s Train: Railway to Victory

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The Red Sotnia, which translates to Red One hundred was Leon Trotsky’s elite personal body guard and were the early twentieth century equivalent of the Secret service and manned what can be considered the early twentieth century equivalent of Air Force One. The train acted as an early version of a mobile Pentagon allowing Trotsky to go to where he was needed and to have an organization that was capable of carrying out his strategy.

One reason for the Bolshevik victory over white forces in the civil war was Trotsky’s decision to allow former imperial officers to command Red Army units which gave it the experience and knowledge to effectively combat the White forces. These former Imperial officers did not have to be persuaded too much and constituted nearly seventy-five percent of the Red Army officers at the start of the war and only grew as it progressed. There was also a fail safe by the Bolsheviks would installed political officers who would have to co-sign orders from officers. This decisions would have ramifications on the future of the coming Soviet Union as Stalin used this decision as ammunition against Trotsky during the power both before and after Lenin’s death. Trotsky made additional reforms including establishing the GRU which was the main intelligence arm of the Red Army. In addition from building an organizational structure from the former Red Guards, he also helped the Red Army to grow from ~300,000 in its initial stages to nearly 3,000,000 by the end of the Russian Civil War.

Trotsky instituted a new meritocracy within the Red Army where people who succeeded got promoted and those who did not faced the consequences regardless of social class. Trotsky’s efforts to reform the Red Army helped lay the foundation of it being the most important agency in the Soviet Union.

The railway was a crucial link that kept the Bolshevik forces from being overrun. Since the Bolsheviks kept control of central European Russia, it allowed them to have a compact enough territory to where they could easily transport supplies and troops where they were needed. Also, since they controlled the heart of the old Russian Empire, they had control over the network of railways that had first helped spread the revolution now allowed the Red Army to have a huge logistical advantage over the White Forces white were spread far and in between from the west, south along the Volga river and Siberia.

A main reason why the Bolsheviks were able to keep the various fronts well supplied and manned was because of the bureaucracy that they had developed to organize their resources. They effectively declared martial law and kept the populace under control with the work of the secret police or Cheka. The Cheka were also useful in curtailing the desertion among the Red Army ranks as those who did were severely punished in addition to keeping order in the diverse ranks.

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Trotsky would travel to the various fronts to personally talk to the soldiers in order to both inspire and drive them to victory.  This was extremely important during the White push from the south that threatened to turn the tide of the war.  He was a larger than life figure who despite having little experience, organized the Red Army and can largely be thanked for helping to win the Russian Civil War. I think that is very interesting how a man so gifted in the conduct of war was not able to navigate the post-war politics of the Soviet Union that led to his exile and death. If he had lived, the USSR might have had a completely different history, but at least thanks to him it was given a chance to have one.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

3 Replies to “Trotsky’s Train: Railway to Victory”

  1. The Red Army certainly needed massive reforms and you did a great job mentioning all of those and the railroad network. Transportation is always key in times of war such as this.

    I agree with your comment that it is interesting that Trotsky couldn’t navigate post-war Bolshevik politics but was that his fault or was that because of Stalin?

  2. Very interesting post. The idea that this was one of the “first” mobile airforce ones was a very cool comparison. It is funny to see how during this time there was such a interconnected system of orders, this continued into Stalin’s government where it was almost as if he didn’t trust his advisors/generals.

  3. Your conclusion is really provocative and makes me think! I do think it’s fair to say that the regime would likely not have survived without Trotsky’s ability to forge the Red Army into an effective fighting force. Thanks for writing about this. I love the title.

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