Wm. Paul

Wrangel’s Last Stand

Source:The Communist, April 02, 1921
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

[Comrade William Paul was at the Red Army headquarters when the last White general was smashed]

DURING the last invasion of Russia, that of Baron Wrangel, the capitalist Press monotonously reiterated that the Soviet Government was collapsing. So insistent and so emphatic were the lies that were spread by the reactionaries about the paralysed condition of the Soviet Government, that even Wrangel’s military staff was misled regarding the spirit and morale of the Red troops. Thus, for example, the official communiqués issued from Warsaw confidently asserted that Budenny’s famous First Cavalry Army had been annihilated. Even Wrangel himself repeatedly assured his troops that the renowned cavalry of Budenny had been destroyed at the Polish front

But there is ever a Nemesis pursuing the systematic fabricator. For behold! it was the sudden appearance of Budenny’s First Cavalry Army on the South Front, against Wrangel, that led to the series of defeats which culminated in the inglorious flight of this German pet of the French militarists. Small wonder the White general arrested the aviator who first reported that Budenny’s unconquerable cavalry was galloping towards his lines. The luckless aviator was charged with attempting to create a panic in Wrangel’s army!

It is false to say that the White, or imperialist, armies which invade Russia are badly led and poorly fitted out. These armies are splendidly equipped. They have all the military stores left over from the Great War at their disposal. They have all the military and technical brains of the Allies and Central Powers at their service. They have the sea and land transport of international imperialism at their call.

They have the economic prestige of world capitalism behind them. And with it all they are always beaten by an army lacking in equipment, lacking in munitions—indeed, lacking in everything except revolutionary enthusiasm and heroism.

Perskop and the roads to the Crimea

There are two important factors which explain, why the invading armies of Wrangel, like all other invaders, were defeated in the attack on Soviet Russia. First of all, as the invading army advances into Russia it is compelled to uproot the Soviet machinery and replace it by enforcing the institutions of private property upon the masses in the occupied areas.

It replaces the dictatorship of Labour with the dictatorship of Capital. This enables the workers—even those who are opposed to the Bolsheviks—to test, by concrete example, the difference between the Soviet Government and capitalist imperialism. And very speedily these workers make up their minds upon the matter. Very speedily they are to be found, weapons in hand, conducting and initiating a disconcerting guerilla war against the invaders. The scope of their activity ranges from secret propaganda in the ranks of the enemy’s soldiers to open and avowed rebellion. The imperialist army is undermined from below and attacked in the open. Thus, in the measure that the invading army is successful in pushing its way into Russia, so in the same ratio it succeeds in raising against itself an ever-increasing mass of determined and relentless workers who dauntlessly oppose it. The very elements of success inevitably create the cumulative elements of ultimate defeat.

The Red Army

Secondly; any imperialist army that invades Russia has to reckon with the Red Battalions of the revolutionary proletariat. Never was there such an army. It is saturated with Communist agitation. Every Military Council in the Red Army is duplicated by a political council—the revolutionary committee. Side by side with the purely military officer stands the revolutionary officer. The one conducts the military campaign against the enemy; the other conducts the revolutionary campaign amongst the soldiers. The result is that every camp is transformed into a great debating school, and every parade becomes a revolutionary demonstration. It is necessary to know this in order to comprehend with what enthusiastic fervour the Red soldiers rush into battle.

Inside every regiment there are the Communists who, by precept and practice, seek to stimulate everyone around them. Every Communist is a veritable dynamo of revolutionary courage who radiates confidence in the Soviet and who, stirs his comrades to emulation by his valiant deeds in the field of battle. He, it is, who leads in the fight. In every army there are special Communist battalions. They lead the army and act as the shock forces in overcoming the enemy. In these Communist battalions I heard every phase of Communist theory and tactics hotly discussed.

These Red soldiers had their minor disagreements. But all—yes, all—were agreed in uniting to fight against the capitalist enemy who threatened to uproot the Soviet system. To them, petty problems of tactics were nothing as compared with the vital and immediate problems which the revolution, in its life and death struggle with imperialism, imposed upon every Communist. To them, Communism was not a mere social theory for quibblers to disagree upon non-essentials; to them, it was a fighting creed upon which every honest person could unite to achieve revolutionary essentials.

I was present at a fierce debate upon tactics in one of the Communist regiments a few days prior to the great battle of Perekop. But despite their discussions, these men were destined to march unflinchingly to death and to prove that Communism was worthy of the greatest sacrifice that man can pay to defend that which he believes in and that which he cherishes.

Betrayed by the Tide

Wrangel’s army had been swept from point to point. It was compelled to retreat towards the Crimean Peninsular. It desired to reach safety by crossing over the narrow strip—a sort of land bridge—that separates the Crimea from the mainland. This isthmus was defended by the almost invulnerable Perekop.

In addition to its natural position, which makes it easy to fortify, Perekop had been cunningly strengthened by the military genius, at the Command of the Allies. Indeed, the French military engineers boasted that it was a second Verdun and could hold back the Red army for years. It was not an idle boast, because they had every weapon that modern military science could devise to help them to defend Perekop. They knew that the Red troops were badly equipped, and that its artillery was poor.

Knowing these things, the French Press optimistically proclaimed that Wrangel’s army had simply retired into the Crimea for the winter months, and that he would renew the offensive in the spring. Thus, the Allies’ plans had been carefully schemed. They had calculated everything—except the driving force of revolutionary enthusiasm as a military factor.

It was the Communist battalions that headed the Red Army in its onslaught upon Perekop. For two days a straightforward frontal attack was hurled against the seemingly impregnable slopes, but without much success. But suddenly it was discovered that, for some phenomenal reason, the tide had receded further than usual and had left bare a narrow stretch of sand which crept round almost to the rear of Perekop. It seemed as though even nature, in addition to history, was working on behalf of the Bolsheviks!

Such a chance could not be neglected. Once again the Communist regiments were permitted to lead the attack. They swarmed over the narrow strip of land. Regiment after regiment swept over that ribbon of sand. The last regiments that passed over it had to race against the oncoming tide, which engulfed several thousand during men. Then, with a reckless heroism unmatched in history, the Red Army finally triumphed and captured Perekop. Perekop captured! No one could believe it. The sensational victory created a panic in the White Army. Wrangel and his staff fled and left their army to its fate. They had not time to pack up their valuables, and even left their mistresses and prostitutes behind them. The betrayed army was so indignant that Wrangel’s aviators flew after his ship and attempted to sink it.

Whenever the news spread over the Crimea that the Red Army had smashed its way through Perekop, the masses of Sebastopol and elsewhere rose and overthrew the Allies and re-established the Soviets. This explains why the French Press gave out the fall of Sebastopol two days before the Red Army entered the town.

Two days after the fall of Perekop, I was present at the conference of the Ukrainian Communist Party, which was held at Kharkov. Most of the delegates who attended were soldiers who had passed through the great battle. The conference opened by singing a famous revolutionary hymn. It was not a song of triumph that these victorious warriors sang. It was the slow, sad song of death—the funeral hymn of the revolution.

Comrade Gusiev, of the revolutionary military council, mounted the platform and stated that some of the Communist regiments had lost 85 per cent. of their members at Perekop. Once again the soldier delegates sang. But this time there was a challenge in their song—it was the international. As I stood there listening to them, I thought of the petty and small things that sometimes separated revolutionary Socialists in Britain. And then I thought of the discussions I had heard in the Communist battalions a few days before Perekop. These brave men had had differences too, but now they were united in death and were sleeping on the bloodstained slopes of Perekop.

The revolution shall ever cherish their memory!