The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 1, 1918

How the Revolution Armed


(and resolution on combatting famine)

Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive by David Walters

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Speech made at the joint session of members of the 4th All-Russia Central Executive Commitee, the Moscow Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the All-Russia and Moscow Central Trade Union Council, representatives of all the trade unions of Moscow, factory committees and other workers’ organizations, on June 4, 1918. [22]


Under present conditions governing the problem of food supplies there can be only two policies: either a policy of state monopoly and fixed prices, or a policy of more or less open, or else completely unrestricted, free trade.

All the criticism which is directed against the food-supply policy of the Soviet Government was represented here in the speeches of the compromisers who, as always, failed to pursue a single one of their ideas to its logical conclusion. Their speeches constitute a muffled echo of the other, the real criticism which is aimed at us by the serious and practical bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie knows well that, as has already been shown, there can be only two definite policies – either government monopoly and regulated prices, or free trade, with prices allowed free play. But the policy of free trade, going over to which would inevitably result in an increase in the price of bread, would mean, under present conditions, that bread would be monopolised in the interests of one section of the population. The price of bread would go up to such an extent that, within a very short time, bread would become a monopoly of those who can pay as high a price for it as anyone cared to ask. That is why the question presents itself thus: either we maintain the workers’ and peasants’ state monopoly of bread, or we turn bread into a monopoly of the rich. That is the only way the question can now be put. [A voice: ‘We have already made it a monopoly of the rich.’] If we had made bread a monopoly of the rich, as somebody tells me, speaking from his seat, the Mensheviks would not have protested against us and our food-supply policy. Because, as I have said, the entire Menshevik criticism is nothing but a partial echo of the bourgeois criticism.

The discontent and hatred shown by the bourgeoisie is determined by deep, fundamental social causes. Ryabushinsky spoke of the bony hand of famine even before the October Revolution, when Soviet power did not yet exist, but there was the regime of the Mensheviks and Right SRs. The shrewd and practical bourgeoisie counted already at that time upon the bony hand of famine, in the sense that this would put an end to the Russian Revolution. That is why, as is self-evident, we cannot look upon the question of food-supply as an indepen dent and isolated question and, summoning individual sages from the various political parties and editorial boards, from alleyways and under gateways, put itto them: ‘Right now solve for us the problem of Russia’s food supplies!’ No, our stand point is that the food-supply question is a constituent part of the general ‘Soviet question’, one of the partial problems of the regime of the class dictatorship of the proletariat and the poorest peasantry. The working class has put the landlord’s land into the hands of the peasantry: it is also teaching the rural poor to take from the kulaks, plunderers and speculators the stocks of food they hold, and to transform these stocks into a common food reserve of the proletarian state. If it is to remain in power, the working class must set in motion the mechanism of its state administration, carrying through this task under very difficult conditions, in face of every obstacle and resistance that hinders its survival and development. When we are told that this is the road of civil war, we are bewildered. It is obvious that Soviet power is organised civil war against the landlords, the bourgeoisie and the kulaks. The Soviet power is not afraid to say this, just as it is not afraid to call on the masses to wage civil war, and to organizethem for this purpose. And it is not for the representatives of those parties which, during the first eight months of the revolution, waged ruthless war against the workers and peasants, namely, the Menshevik and SR parties, to come here criticising and blaming the Soviet power: it is not for them to ask us, with the shamelessness of traitors: ‘Have you not forgotten that, by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Germans took over the Ukraine, with its rich stocks of food?’

No, we have forgotten nothing! We have not forgotten, in the first place, that the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk meant the noose that was flung about our neck by the bourgeoisie and the SRs who were responsible for the offensive of June 18. We have not forgotten, and shall not forget, in the second place, that those who opened to the enemy our country’s gates in the Ukraine, those who surrendered its stocks of food to German imperialism, were the Ukrainian Right SRs and Mensheviks, in the shape of the Kiev Rada. And when they put another question to us: ‘Don’t you recall that getting food from Siberia has now been made difficult through the Czechoslovak revolt?’ – which we shall, of course, put down – we say to our questioners: ‘And do you recall that the Czechoslovak revolt was organised by the Mensheviks and Right SRs of Novo Nikolayevsk and other places [A voice: ‘By Trotsky’], who were active in Siberia, and whose thinkers, whose closest friends, are here, on the right?’ And it is our task to make this clear to the working class. [Applause and uproar]

Comrades, someone from among the scoundrels present here, I don’t know his name, said that the Czechoslovak revolt was caused by me. [A voice: ‘It was Cherevanin who said it.’] I declare that it was all the SR and Menshevik scoundrels in Siberia and at Penza, Samara and Syzran who, with their low down lie that I want to betray the Czechoslovaks into the hands of the Germans, excited and confused the unfortunate Czechoslovak soldiers and by means of these treacherous slanders, drove a considerable number of them out of their senses. [Uproar, shouting from the right] Here, on these benches, sit members of the three parties which raised the Czechoslovaks against us in Siberia, and which even declared, in Novo Nikolayevsk, that they had set up a new government for Russia; composed of Right SRs and Mensheviks, relying on the bayonets of foreigners, of the Czechoslovaks. The SRs and Mensheviks are talking about this all over the place, and at the same time their co-thinkers get up here and say to us, in a reproachful tone: ‘You’ve forgotten about the Czechoslovaks.’ No, we have not forgotten about the Czechoslovaks, nor have we forgotten about you, their instigators, and the civil war which we are waging is and will be a war also against those who dared to stir up the ignorant Czechoslovaks who have been led astray. [Uproar, shouts from the right: ‘Trotsky ... insinuation.’ The chairman appeals for calm]

Someone said here: ‘Don’t play with famine!’ That was well said, and we throw it at the heads of the bourgeoisie and its lackeys: ‘Don’t play with famine!’

At the present moment we are passing through the two or three most critical months of the Russian revolution. Although we have had civil war already, the Russian revolution has not yet known terror, in the French sense of the word. The Soviet power will now act more resolutely and radically. It issues this warning: don’t play with famine, don’t set the Czechoslovaks on us, don’t incite all the lackeys of the bourgeoisie against us, don’t organize sabotage, and don’t poison the minds of the worker masses with the lies and slanders that fill the pages of your libelous press, because this whole game of yours can end in a way that will be tragic in the highest degree! [Martov, from his seat: ‘We did not fear the Tsarist regime and we’re not afraid of you, either.’ Shouts: ‘The Tsarist regime was terribly savage, yet we did not fear it, so don’t try to frighten us.’]

Don’t play with famine!

We put the food-supply question before you as a question of armed struggle for food. Neither Soviet power itself, nor any of its reforms, nor any of the questions of Communist transformation is conceivable if now, in the next few months of our country’s existence, the working class and the poor peasantry do not take over the stocks of food that are available in the country. The view that by means of partial measures – bonuses, bargaining and additions to prices we can now win over the kulak, who is economically stuffed full of banknotes and politically corrupted to the marrow of his bones by the parties of the bourgeoisie and its servants, that view is an illusion and a lie. It is a pitiful utopia to hope that grain can be got from that kulak by means of palliative measures.

Those who say that the food situation is disastrous are right: but from this disastrous situation there follows utter condemnation, as unpractical, pathetic and futile, of all the petty economic and housewifely measures which they propose for struggle against the kulak. We take a different and truer view of the matter. We say: the country is hungry, the towns are beginning to suffer from hunger, the Red Army cannot resist the attackers owing to lack of food, and in these conditions all the hungry elements in the country must understand that there is grain to be had, that it is held by the kulaks, the beasts of prey, the exploiters of hunger and misfortune: that we are offering to these kulaks a price determined by what the state’s finances will bear, and that they are not giving us grain at that price; and that, this being so, we are going to take the grain from them by force of arms; by using force against the kulaks we shall feed the workers, women and children! There is not now and there will not be any other road. [Uproar]

In order to proceed from words to deeds, we have undertaken planned mobilisation of the advanced elements of the working class for the task of obtaining supplies of grain. They will be entrusted with the responsible work of taking the proletarian dictatorship into the countryside.

This has been decided by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee. [23] Yes, in the coming weeks, the best of the workers of Moscow must be transformed into armed and equipped cadres of grain-procurement units, and these, the best elements of the working-class, must bring with them not only rifles for use against the kulaks but also fraternal words for the peasant poor.

Yes, you, Moscow proletarians, on behalf of the masses who have elected you, will set out into the countryside, under the banner of the Soviet power, on crusade against the kulaks. You will say, when you get there, that you are, on the one hand, for the closest fraternal alliance with the starving peasants, with whom you will share the grain that you take from the kulak and, on the other hand, you are for merciless and destructive war against the kulaks, who want to starve out Soviet Russia of the workers and peasants.

If the Moscow workers do not accomplish this most essential task, if, caused to waver by the treacherous voices of the bourgeois press, the reptile hissing of these lickspittles and lackeys of moribund capital [Voices from the right: ‘Not true, not true’], they should lose heart, then this means, comrades, that the working class is not capable of coping with the task that history has set before it. But, comrades, the Communist Party cannot believe that this is so, and neither do you believe it. We know that, in the next few weeks, we shall raise up in Moscow, for the fight against famine, the best elements among the work ers, who know what the famine in the towns means, and whose consciousness has been enlightened by the ideals of socialism. These we shall hurl into the countryside, in well-organised columns, to establish fraternal unity with the poor. With their aid we shall register all the stocks of food that exist in the country, so as to make them the monopoly of the workers and peasants, and not the monopoly of the kulaks and the rich. It is necessary to choose between these two monopolies: this choice must be made not in words but in deeds, and the essence of this choice is civil war. And our Party is for civil war! Civil war has to be waged for grain. We the Soviets, are going into battle! [From a seat, ironically: ‘Long live civil war!’] Yes, long live civil war! Civil war for the sake of the children, the elderly, the workers and the Red Army, in the name of direct and ruthless struggle against counter-revolution. Long live the campaign of the workers in the countryside for grain and for alliance with the poor peasants!

I move that we adopt a resolution that will express our firm will to fight the famine. Once again I call upon you, comrades, not to give in either to despondency or to scepticism, or to the sly and treacherous advice that you hear coming from the right. After all, we heard this advice already on the eve of October. They said: ‘Don’t take power, workers, for you won’t last a fortnight: you won’t have sufficient supplies of food, they’ll be taken by the peasants and the bourgeoisie.’ Nevertheless, we took power in October, and we have survived, through toil and tribulation, not for the fortnight they promised us, but for seven months – to the vexation of all our foes. There now lie before us three most trying months, but these do not terrify us, either. We promise each other not to lose heart, not to give up, but to fight against all the difficulties that confront us. We shall survive these three months just as we have survived seven already, and, by surviving them, we shall secure the Soviet Republic forever!

Forward, comrades, into the fight, with hope and faith!

Resolution on the question of combating famine.
Moved by Comrade Trotsky and adopted at the joint session of June 4, 1918

The war engendered by the predatory appetites of the bourgeoisie of the whole world has ruined and devastated all countries and brought all people to the brink of destruction.

Famine prevails in all countries, both belligerent and neutral.

News is coming from all corners of Europe of protest and indignation on the part of the hungry masses.

The war and the ruin caused by it has also brought famine to our own agricultural Russia, with its rich stocks of grain.

Famine is knocking at the doors of our towns, factories and villages. Famine is the best ally of counter-revolution, which hopes to evoke outbursts of desperation by the hungry masses, to drown the revolution in blood and to restore the power of the landlords and capitalists, as happened in the Ukraine.

The fight against famine is therefore the fundamental task of all conscious workers and peasants.

This joint session of the Soviets, the All-Russia CEC and Moscow workers’ organisations calls upon all workers and revolutionary peasants to strain every nerve for the fight against famine.

There is grain in Russia. It is being hidden by the kulaks and speculators, while the towns, the Red Army and the rural poor starve.

So that the country may live, so that the revolution may not perish, so that Soviet power may be preserved, strengthened and developed, we must tear the grain from the clutches of the kulaks and distribute it in a planned way among the hungry population.

The bourgeoisie and its hangers-on demand that the state grain monopoly be abandoned and the system of fixed prices brought to an end. If we were to take that road it would mean making the grain stocks that exist the monopoly possession of the rich, and dooming the poor of town and village to famine; epidemic and degeneration.

The joint session recognises as the only correct policy for the Soviet power the policy of dictatorship over food-supplies, which means ruthless struggle against the enemies of the people, the kulaks, speculators and plunderers who are striving to starve out the socialist revolution.

The mobilisation of the hungry workers, the training and arming of them, their fraternal alliance with the rural poor, their joint campaign against the kulaks and speculators this is the only way to obtain stocks of grain at prices within the people’s reach and to enable the working people to last out until the new harvest.

The joint session calls on the workers for organised, planned, vigorous and resolute struggle for grain.

Strict labour discipline, strict labour order, everywhere and especially in rail and river transport: strict recording of all available stocks, strict distribution of these stocks throughout the country – this is the road that leads to salvation for the socialist revolution.

Into the battle against famine, workers of Moscow and of all Russia!

By triumphing over famine we shall triumph over counter revolution and secure the Communist republic forever.


22. Comrade Lenin presented to this meeting the fundamental report on the question of the fight against famine. Criticism of the Soviet Government’s procurement policy was voiced by Cherevanin (Menshevik), Karelin (Left SR) and Disler (Right SR). After they had spoken, Comrade Trotsky took the floor on behalf of the Communist fraction.

23. On May 31, 1918 the Council of People’s Commissars published an address to the workers, calling on them to form armed detachments for the purpose of making the kulaks give up their grain surpluses. The most mature and staunch workers served as cadres for these detachrnents. The organising of them was entrusted to the People’s Commissariat of Food.

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Last updated on: 13.12.2006