With the Bolsheviks coming to power in 1917, there was no guarantee that they would be able to keep and hold power. World War I was still on going and, possibly even more importantly, there was still significant opposition to the Bolsheviks within Russia itself. The Bolsheviks needed to find a way to show the Russian people that they were the political party best suited to lead and rebuild the nation after the disaster of World War I and help bring Russia into the modern era. One way the Bolsheviks went about doing this was through their use of the Red Army, the military force for the Bolsheviks. Two orders in particular, “Order to the Third Red Army-First Labor Army” from January 1919 and “Establishment of the First Labour Army” from January 1920, show the Bolsheviks attempting to move from a revolutionary movement to an actual government by trying to appeal to the people.
The “Order to the Third Red Army-First Labor Army” from January 15, 1919 was an important step in the movement from revolutionaries to actual government. In the order, Leon Trotsky was ordering the Third Red Army would become a new sort of army group called the First Labor Army. Their mission would be to help support workers in areas facing great difficulty. They would do this by bringing food, building barracks for workers to live in, and other activities to help support workers around Russia. According to Trotsky, the First Labor Army served an important propaganda tool as well. In attempt to inform the Russian people of the Bolsheviks’ plans, the army was supposed to handout, “Hundreds of thousands of printed appeals and speeches must be distributed to make clear to the most backward of the Red Army soldiers and all the surrounding workers and peasants, the idea of the great work which the Third Army is entering upon” (Trotsky). Another order almost a year to the day further outlined the work of this group.
In “Establishment of the First Labor Army” from January 15, 1920 was a more explicit in lining out the responsibilities of the First Labor Army. In the order, Lenin expanded who the army was supposed to help, what their mission was, and went into great detail about who was supposed to be in charge of the army. The army was to ensure that labor was conducted and people were in the place where the need was greatest.
Reading these sources, one has to wonder how the militarization of the labor force was an important step in transitioning the Bolsheviks from a revolutionary group to a legitimate government. The use of the military as a tool to organize the working class was a great idea to give a more public and equitable disposition to the army. Previously, the army had been part of the government that had oppressed the common Russian population. With these reforms, the military was now working to both help build the working class and Russia as a whole. Instead of being a tool of oppression, it was now a tool to building Russia into a modern, more equitable nation. Additionally, the militarization of the working class in this manner gave them (or at least the perception of) greater power. No longer was the military a separate entity. Now it was an organization to work for the working class. All of this goes to the Bolsheviks attempting to further cement themselves as the future government of Russia. The working class in Russia at the time had many different political groups fighting for their support. These orders were an important step for the Bolsheviks in their attempts to gain their support.
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