The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 1, 1918

How the Revolution Armed



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

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Testimony before the Supreme Revolutionary Tribunal
in the Shchastny case, June 20, 1918

[On the Shchastny affair and its background, see Mawdsley, E., The Russian Revolution and the Baltic Fleet (1978) and the same writer’s article: The Case of Captain Shchastny, in Sbornik, No.3 (1977); also Sisson, E.G., One Hundred Red Days (1931). D.N. Fedotoff-White, who was an officer in the Tsarist Navy, quotes in The Growth of the Red Army (1944) a conversation he had with Shchastny in early 1918, on the ice of Helsingfors harbor, when Shchastny said: ‘The Bolshevik are German agents, they are going to try to hand over the fleet to the enemy so that they can use it against the Allies. Something is going to happen, however, which will stop them ... The Baltic fleet made the revolution possible, the Baltic fleet will also bring the Bolshevik power to an end.’

The Left SRs protested against the sentence of death passed on Shchastny, on the grounds that one of the gains of the revolution had been the abolition of capital punishment. Lenin and Sverdlov, speaking at the Fifth Congress of Soviets on July 5, 1918, both pointed out that there was a certain formalism in the Left SRs’ attitude, since the Cheka, in which they were represented, had been shooting people in its own summary way since the earliest days of the revolution.

‘We are told that when people are sentenced to be shot by Dzherzhinsky’s commission it is all right, but if a court were to declare publicly and openly that a man was a counter-revolutionary and deserved to be shot, that would be wrong. People who have sunk to such depths of hypocrisy are political corpses. No, a revolutionary who does not want to be a hypocrite cannot renounce capital punishment. There has never been a revolution or a period of civil war without shootings.’ (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.27, p.519.

‘The death penalty was not abolished altogether but only so far as concerned the soldiers at the front ... The abolition of the death penalty is for times of peace ... and not for revolutionary times ... The execution of Shchastny was not the first case of capital punishment in the Soviet Republic ... Death sentences by the dozen were being passed in every city, in Petrograd, in Moscow and in the provinces.’ (Sverdlov, quoted in Bunyan, J., Intervention, Civil War and Communism in Russia, April-December 1918 [1936].)]

Comrade judges! I saw Citizen Shchastny for the first time at the session of the Supreme Military Council [48] at the end of April, after Shchastny’s skillful and vigorous transfer of our fleet from Helsingfors to Kronstadt. [49] The attitude of the Supreme Military Council and of myself towards Admiral Shchastny was at that time a very favorable one, precisely because of his successful fulfillment of that task. But the impression made by Shchastny’s entire conduct at the session of the Supreme Council was diametrically opposite to this. In the report which he gave at that meeting Shchastny depicted the internal condition of the fleet in extremely gloomy, hopeless colors. According to him, the fleet was still all right technically, but the state of the crews rendered it quite unfit for combat. Shchastny went so far as to describe the fleet as ‘so much scrap-iron’, although these same vessels, with these same crews, had just completed quite satisfactorily a very difficult move through the ice.

It was perfectly clear that Shchastny was laying it on very thick. At first I interpreted this exaggeration as due to desire to enhance his own services. That was not very pleasant, but neither was it particularly important. When, however, it later turned out that Shchastny had tried in every way to present the state of the central Soviet Government just as gloomily to the fleet itself, it became clear that the matter was more serious.

The unfitness of the fleet so far as its personnel was concerned could be summed up, according to Shchastny, as a panicky mood that was due, in the main, to the uncertainty of the situation, the absence of a definite line of demarcation Shchastny himself acknowledged this. When, at that same session of the Supreme Council, definite proposals were put forward with a view to regulating the international position of the Baltic fleet, after clarifying, first and foremost, the question of the line of demarcation, Shchastny rejected these proposals, without adducing any arguments. What he wanted was a hope less situation, not a way out of it.

Shchastny was then instructed by the Supreme Council to approach the German command with a proposal to regulate through negotiation the question of the demarcation line. However, Shchastny failed to carry out this direct and precise order. [50] He kept in being the ‘hopeless situation.’

He clearly played the same game in the matter of Fort Ino. [51] With regard to the fate of this fort, I replied to Shchastny, at that same meeting, that on this particular question the naval command must come into line with our general policy. We had to try to establish a line of demarcation. The fleet must in no case take the initiative in warlike operations but, in the event of an attack, must defend itself, and, in an extremity, that is, if there was nothing else to be done, scuttle the ships. I gave merely a general directive; the actual orders had, of course, to be issued, in accordance with circumstances, by the Chief of Naval Forces, namely, Citizen Shchastny. Where operational matters were concerned, Shchastny had been given unlimited powers, and all responsibility in that sphere rested with him. [52]

When, soon afterward, I received from Shchastny, who was at Kronstadt, a report that Fort Ino was, allegedly, threatened by a suddenly approaching German fleet, I replied, in conformity with my general directive, that, if the situation thus created became hopeless, the fort must be blown up. What did Shchastny do? He passed on this conditional directive in the form of a direct order from me for blowing up the fort, although there was no need for this to be done. Within two or three days I received inquiries from Petrograd; Comrade Zinoviev informed me of the alarm felt in the city as a result of my order for the blowing up of Fort Ino. Startled, I replied that I had given no such order: that the fort was to be blown up only in the event of a hopeless situation, as estimated by the Chief of Naval Forces and on his personal responsibility. But in the fleet and in Petrograd the talk was everywhere about my order. The dark forces put about a rumor in the city that the Soviet Government had secretly agreed with the Germans to effect this demolition. I asked Admiral Zelyonoy [Admiral A.P. Zelyonoy (1872-1922) was appointed Chief of Naval Forces in the Baltic in January 1919, and distinguished himself in the defense of Petrograd against the British naval attack made in support of General Yudenich’s offensive by land. Later he served as Soviet Naval Attache in Finland] whether Shchastny had made any attempt to explain his action. This is what I discovered. When he gave Zelyonoy (in my name!) the order to blow up Fort Ino, Shchastny made no reference at all to an immediate danger that the Germans would seize the fort. On the contrary, he passed on his (allegedly my) order completely without any explanation. It appeared that the fort had to be destroyed not because of the operational situation but owing to some mysterious plans by Moscow. Nor was that all: in actual fact, no German fleet had shown up before Fort Ino, the situation was not at all as Shchastny described it in his dispatch over the direct wire. Shchastny was trying to terrorize the fleet by means of a false report.

After the meeting of the Supreme Council, having received, as I said, a definite instruction to take up at once the question of a demarcation line, Shchastny left for Petrograd. We awaited news of the steps he had taken. For a long time, no signals were received from him. At last, after six or seven days had passed, in response to our insistent inquiry, the curt answer came that ‘Zelyonoy considers it inopportune to enter into negotiations about a demarcation line’ – as though the settlement of this matter had been entrusted to Zelyonoy.

Shchastny was repeatedly told that he must at once, either through Zelyonoy or directly, begin negotiations with the German command. However, negotiations have not been begun even to this day. Shchastny acknowledges that it is not possible to fight the Germans, he emphasizes this fact in every way and even exaggerates it, yet at the same time he refuses to negotiate about the establishment of a demarcation line. He needs only one thing – a hopeless situation.

At the same time, rumors are being persistently spread in the fleet to the effect that the Soviet Government has promised the Germans, in a secret article of the treaty, to destroy our navy. This legend has served as one of the principal means of arousing the sailors against the Soviet power. And by his entire conduct Shchastny deliberately contributed to the spreading and strengthening of this malicious rumor among the sailors, whom, on the other hand, he was depicting to the Soviet Government as worthless and hopeless.

I have already said that the actual situation of the fleet was grave primarily because of its terrible uncertainty. There was no line of demarcation. There was, undoubtedly, danger of an attack upon us. The fleet’s capacity to fight had been reduced. I was approached more than once by representatives of the British Admiralty, who asked whether we had taken the necessary measure for scuttling the Baltic fleet in the event that this situation became hopeless. These same British officers frequently also spoke to the Admirals in Soviet service, Behrens and Altvater. Thus, both from our point of view and from that of the British, the danger at that moment was that the Germans might, by a sudden blow, seize our ships and take them over. Therefore, along with attempts to fix a line of demarcation, that is, to arrive at a maritime agreement with the Germans, we had also to take measures for scuttling the ships in the event that no other way out was left to us. How did Shchastny behave in respect of this situation? On the matter of the demarcation line he, as we have already heard, put up a stubborn, deep and unexplained resistance – unexplained, that is, unless we assume a counter-revolutionary attempt to keep the fleet in a state of alarm and panic. As regards the scuttling of the ships Shchastny acted even more evasively – I should say enigmatically, had not the solution to his behavior soon become quite obvious. Shchastny could not but appreciate the need to make preparations for scuttling, precisely because he, with obvious exaggeration, had described the fleet as so much scrap-iron. But Shchastny not only failed to take any preparatory measures – more than that, he utilized this question to terrorize the sailors and stir them up against the Soviet power. This became most concretely apparent in the following episode. During the discussion of the question of preparatory measures in the event of our needing to scuttle the fleet, attention was given to the possibility that, should a sudden attack be made by German vessels, with the co-operation of counter-revolutionary commanders in our own fleet, such a state of disorganization and chaos might be created on our vessels that it would be quite impossible actually to scuttle them. In order to safeguard ourselves against such a situation, we decided to form, on each vessel, a group of ‘shock-brigade’ sailors who were absolutely reliable and devoted to the revolution and who, whatever the circumstances, would be ready and able to scuttle their ship, even if it meant sacrificing their own lives. I proposed that members of the board of the Navy Commissariat go personally to Petrograd and Kronstadt and there, relying on the best and bravest elements in the fleet, organize shock-groups of this kind on the ships. Shchastny behaved officially as though this question was no concern of his. [53] It would be more accurate to say that he behaved in such a way as to make his subordinates believe that preparation for scuttling the fleet was inspired not by the interests of the revolution and the country but by some secret deal made between the Soviet Government and the Germans, and that he, Shchastny, was merely compelled to put up with these measures because of his position. When the organizing of these shock-groups was still in the preparatory stage, one of the members of the Navy Board was approached by a prominent British naval officer [54] who said that Britain was so much concerned that the ships should not fall into the hands of the Germans that she was ready to reward generously those sailors who would undertake the blow their ships up at the fatal moment. I immediately took steps to put a stop to such negotiations with this gentleman. But it must be admitted that this proposal compelled us to think about a question to which, in the hurly-burly of events, we had until then given no thought – namely, about how to look after the families of those sailors who were going to incur a terrible risk. I ordered that Shchastny be told, over the direct wire, that the Government was going to allot a certain sum for the sailors of the shock-groups. This decision, in my view, was in no way contrary either to particular ‘naval’ morality or to the morality common to all men. In any case, in those difficult circumstances it ensured an extra chance that the real interests of the revolution would be safeguarded.

How did Shchastny act? He made use of this proposal too for the counter-revolutionary work he was carrying on. Not reckoning with the fact that the arrangement, being in the nature of a military secret, should have remained confidential, Shchastny at once took steps to give this proposal the widest publicity. He passed it on to the council of senior commanders and to the council of commissars of the fleet [55], the composition of which was extremely fortuitous, stating that, in his view, this plan was immoral, and giving support to the story that it was being carried out in fulfillment of a secret article in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. He said in so many words that the Soviet Government wanted to ‘bribe’ the sailors to destroy their own fleet. After that, rumors ran through the whole Baltic fleet that the Soviet Government was planning to pay with German gold for the scuttling of Russian ships, although, in reality, quite the opposite was the case – that is, it was the British who were offering gold, since what was at stake was that the fleet should not be surrendered to the Germans. But an extremely confused situation was created, which was most favorable to the diabolical agitation of the White-Guard elements. And this agitation was headed by Admiral Shchastny. He contributed to this agitation equally by his actions and words and by his silence.

You know, Comrade Judges, that Shchastny, when he last came to Moscow in response to our summons, left the railway-carriage not by alighting on the passenger platform but beyond it, in a remote place, just as a conspirator might do. After Shchastny had been arrested and we were questioning him, I asked him whether he knew about the counter-revolutionary agitation in the fleet. Shchastny answered, half-heatedly: ‘Yes, I knew.’ But he said not a word about the documents in his briefcase which were supposed to prove the existence of a secret agreement between the Soviet Government and the German high command. The grossness of the forgery could not be other than obvious to Admiral Shchastny. As head of the fleet of Soviet Russia, it was Shchastny’s duty to take action immediately and severely against traitorous slanders. But, as we have seen, in fact, by his entire conduct he provided grounds for this falsehood, and fostered it. There can be no doubt that the documents were forged by officers of the Baltic fleet. It is enough to mention that one of these documents the address by a (mythical) German operational headquarters to Lenin is written in the tone of a reprimand for the appointment of Blokhin as chief commissar of the fleet, on the grounds that he was opposed to the ideas of the Germans. It must be said that Blokhin, a quite fortuitous person, was one of Shchastny’s own creatures. Blokhin’s incompetence was perfectly obvious to everyone, including himself. But Shchastny needed Blokhin. And so a situation was created, in advance, whereby Blokhin’s dismissal could be interpreted as having been dictated by the Germans. I have no evidence for asserting that Shchastny himself compiled these documents: this may have been done by subordinates of his. It is enough that Shchastny knew about these documents, had them in his briefcase, and not only did not report their existence to the Soviet power, but, on the contrary, skillfully utilized them against it. [56]

Meanwhile, events in the fleet assumed a more decisive character. In the destroyer division two officers, named, I believe, Zasimuk and Lisinevich, began openly to call for revolt against the Soviet power, which, they claimed, wanted to destroy the Baltic fleet for the benefit of the Germans. They drew up a resolution about overthrowing the Soviet power and establishing a ‘dictatorship of the Baltic fleet’, which must have meant, of course, a dictatorship of Admiral Shchastny. Under the influence of the false documents and all the other methods of sustaining panic, some ships of the destroyer division adhered to this resolution. When, however, the delegates from the destroyers appeared on the larger ships, they met there with a revolutionary rebuff. At Kronstadt a congress of delegates of the Baltic fleet was held. [57] The whole story was put before the congress, which adopted a resolution for expelling Zasimuk, Lisinevich and others from the fleet. In the name of the People’s Commissariat for Naval Affairs, the member of the Supreme Navy Board Comrade Saks [S.E. Saks, who subsequently commanded the Red Caspian Flotilla at Astrakhan.] demanded that Shchastny immediately carry out the decision taken by the congress and arrest the counter-revolutionary mutineers. However, Shchastny evaded giving the order for arrest, by referring to Comrade Saks’s non-observance of some formalities or other. At that moment it was already obvious to all of us that Zasimuk and Lisinevich were merely Shchastny’s agents, his shock brigadiers. Shchastny himself behaved more cautiously, but moved in the same direction that is, towards the ‘dictatorship of the Baltic fleet’. The Council of People’s Commissars appointed Comrade Fedorovsky chief commissar of the fleet. From that moment the situation had to be defined one way or the other. Shchastny began to manifest open resistance, going over to direct revolt against the Soviet power. In defiance of the decision of the Council of People’s Commissars, at the end of May, Shchastny issued his order appointing as chief commissar of the fleet Blokhin, who, as he himself acknowledged, was entirely under Shchastny’s influence and was not at all fit for this post. I will not dwell upon the truly monstrous fact that Admiral Shchastny appointed his own commissar!

Among Shchastny’s papers was found the outline for a political speech which, as he himself said, he intended to deliver at the congress of naval delegates which has been mentioned. The speech was to be purely political in character, and expressed a clearly counter-revolutionary tendency. While, when talking to the Government, Shchastny called the Baltic fleet so much scrap-iron, to the representatives of that ‘scrap-iron’ Shchastny was going to speak of the Soviet Government’s intention to scuttle the fleet, in such a tone as to imply that this was an act of treason by the Soviet power, and not the taking of a measure dictated, in the given circumstances, by tragic necessity. The whole outline, from beginning to end, despite its outward cautiousness, is indisputably a document of counter revolutionary conspiracy. Shchastny read his report to the committee of the Congress, which decided not to allow him to read it to the congress itself. When I asked Shchastny who it was that had actually asked him to deliver a political speech (which was in no way part of the duty of a fleet commander), he replied evasively: he did not remember, he claimed, just who it was who had asked him. In the same way, Shchastny did not answer when asked what practical purposes he was pursuing with his intention to deliver such a speech to a congress of the Baltic fleet.

But these purposes were self-evident. Shchastny persistently and steadily deepened the gulf between the fleet and the Soviet power. Sowing panic, he steadily promoted his candidature for the role of savior. The vanguard of the conspiracy – the officers of the destroyer division – openly raised the slogan of a ‘dictatorship of the Baltic fleet’.

This was a definite political game – a great game, the goal of which was the seizure of power. When Messrs. Admirals and Generals start, during a revolution, to play their own personal political game, they must always be prepared to take responsibility for this game, if it should miscarry. Admiral Shchastny’s game has miscarried. [58]


48. The Supreme Military Council was set up after the signing of the Brest peace. On March 4 1918, by decree of the Council of People’s Commissars, General Headquarters was abolished, together with the post of Supreme Commander-in-Chief, and all headquarters, fronts and armies began to be dissolved. Leadership of military units and work for the creation of a new army was made the responsibility of the Supreme Military Council, consisting of the military leader Comrade Bonch-Bruyevich and two commissars, Proshyan and Shutko. On March 18 Comrade Trotsky was appointed Chairman of the Supreme Military Council, with Comrade Sklyansky as his deputy, and Comrades Podvoisky and Mekhonoshin as members. The Supreme Military Council continued to exist until September 2, 1918, when the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic was formed. During its half-year’s existence the Supreme War Council did a great deal of work. Leadership in organizing the armed forces, the implementing of new military-administrative divisions, the first mobilizations, the introduction of universal military training for the working people, all were the work of the Supreme Military Council. At the front, the Supreme Military Council formed the screen sectors which, by placing detachments along the line of demarcation that had been established with the Germans under the Brest treaty, ensured that it would be possible to create without delay the units of the Red Army needed to defend the Republic (see Map No.1, the screens).

49. The October revolution found the main forces of the Baltic fleet partly at Helsingfors (the ships of the line) and partly at Revel (cruisers and destroyers). After the occupation by the Germans of the Moon Sound, Riga and Baltisky Port, the fleet left Revel and was entirely concentrated at Helsingfors. The Germans’ landing at Hang on April 3, 1918 and their rapid advance, by land and sea, towards Helsinefors, placed the fleet in a very difficult situation. In order to protect it, the fleet was sent to Kronstadt. The vessels had to make their way through the ice hummocks of great thickness which are usually formed in the spring between Kronstadt and Hogland. The fact that the crews were not up to strength and the absence of navigational installations, which had been carried away by the ice, made this transfer even more difficult. On arrival at Kronstadt the fleet was berthed in the inner harbors.

50. On April 25, 1918 the Supreme Military Council proposed to Fleet Commander Shchastny that he at once begin negotiations with the Germans about the establishment of a line of demarcation, since without this the position of the fleet would be extremely difficult. Shchastny passed on the corresponding order by radio to the senior naval officer at Helsingfors, Zelyonoy, and this message was repeated on April 29. Only on May 1 was a reply received from Zelyonoy, saying that, in his view, it was not desirable to raise this question in the circumstances of the moment. On May 3 Zelyonoy reported that the order would be carried out. Shchastny was obviously conniving at the non-fulfillment of orders by his subordinates.

51. Fort Ino provided, together with Fort Krasnaya Gorka, situated on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland, a combination of batteries (of 10½-inch guns) intended to prevent a hostile fleet from reaching Kronstadt and the inner waters of the Gulf of Finland. The fort was poorly defended on the landward side. It was blown up by the Reds on May 14 1918. From the dispatch dealing with this event sent by the Commandant of Kronstadt Fortress, Artamonov, the following circumstances emerge: already by April 24 the fort had been surrounded by Finnish White-Guard troops; their demand for the surrender of the fort was rejected; the breechblocks of the guns and a large amount of material were sent off to Kronstadt; the fort was blown up from a mine-station in Fort Krasnaya Gorka, by means of a telephone cable with a current of 500 volts.

52. Shchastny’s powers were defined with sufficient precision in the Provisional Decision on the Management of the Baltic Fleet, which was ratified by the Council of People’s Commissars on March 29, 1918. Paragraph 6 of this decision reads: ‘Where operational activity and preparation for battle of the fleet and of the units and maritime fortresses composing it are concerned, the Chief of Naval Forces performs the duties and enjoys the powers of a Fleet Commander, and bears full responsibility for directing this activity by the fleet.’

53. In a message sent by the Hughes apparatus on May 21, addressed to Shchastny, the Supreme Military Council demanded that he take measures for preparing demolition cadres and fulfill instructions regarding the financial security of their families. On May 22 Shchastny replied with reassuring information, and at the same time stated that it was not possible to establish a line of demarcation.

54. The name of the British officer mentioned in the testimony was Commander Cromie, a British naval agent. [Cromie was subsequently killed during a raid by the Cheka on the British Embassy.]

55. The Council of Commissars of the Fleet (Sovkombalt) was a consultative organ attached to the Chief Commissar of the Fleet. Before the issuing of the Provisional Decision on the Management of the Fleet mentioned above, this organ played an important role in the leadership of the fleet. The Council of Senior Commanders was a conference, held periodically, of all the commanders of independent units, brigades, detachments and flotillas.

56. For illustrative purposes I will quote in full a copy of one of these false documents which were captured when Shchastny was arrested and which figured in the case before the Supreme Tribunal of the Republic:

Section P
Nachrichten Bureau
April 19, 1918

To the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Petrograd Commune. The Intelligence Department has received precise information that a group of Anarchist sailors at Kronstadt has decided to place the Baltic fleet at the disposal of the Red Guards of the Finnish revolutionaries, for the defense of Vyborg and Bjorko.

According to our information the Soviet of the Petrograd Commune has approved this decision by the group of sailors mentioned. We consider it our duty to inform you that this act will be regarded by our High Command as sufficient justification for occupying Petrograd and demanding the complete disarmament of Kronstadt and of the vessels in the naval port.

For the chief of the Intelligence Department,
M. Bauer

M. Kreisler, adjutant
(Nachrichten Bureau)


57. The third congress of the Baltic Fleet took place at that time.

58. The Revolutionary Tribunal of the Republic sentenced Shchastny to be shot.

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Last updated on: 20.12.2006