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

* * *

One often hears it said that the former officers are not joining the army because they do not want to be involved in civil war. The officers, it is said, want to stay ‘out of politics’.

But how, then, did the officers manage to serve in the old army? Only simpletons can seriously suppose the Tsarist army stayed ‘out of politics’. The old army was saturated through and through with the political spirit of Byzantinism, that is, with subservience and servility towards the monarchy. Enemies of the Tsarist autocracy were officially regarded as enemies of the army. The anthem of the autocracy and of the army was the same: ‘God save the Tsar.’ Both the education of the officers and the ‘literature’ of the soldiers were permeated with the idea of that anthem. [Cf. D.R. Jones, The Officers and the Soviets, 1917-1920: A Study in Motives, in Sbornik No.2.] Was that not politics? Where and when did any army stay out of politics? Let our know-alls tell us, we are listening!

Furthermore, the old army was an instrument for upholding the Tsarist autocracy. The final decade of the autocratic regime was a time of uninterrupted disturbance and ferment. Did not many regular units, and, therefore, many officers, take part, directly or indirectly, in acts of suppression? On that matter the necessary information could be found somehow in some records or other. The officers of the Tsarist army waged civil war against the workers and peasants. In those days, to be sure, it was not called civil war. But that made things no easier for the workers and peasants whom they shot down.

It may be said, of course: all that was in the past, but nowadays the officers do not want to take part in political conflict. In other words, those officers who participated in civil war on the side of the Tsar, the landlords and the capitalists, when they ruled the country, do not want to participate in civil war on the side of the workers and peasants who are now in power. That’s different. But then they ought to say: we fought with the tyrants and the rich against the people, but we don’t want to fight with the workers and peasants against the tyrants? It is useless for them to talk about disgust with civil war, they should speak of disgust with the workers’ and peasants’ struggle for complete emancipation of the working people. That would be more accurate.

Some, of course, say: there’s no question of hostility, the officers simply want to remain ‘neutral’ in the internal conflict, but they are ready to defend the country against the external enemy. [60] At first glance this may seem a likely explanation. But, in fact, it is a subterfuge, either conscious or unconscious.

The fight against Krasnov's bands – what's that? Civil war or defense of the country? Krasnov is trying to cut off the Don and the Kuban from Russia, to cut us off from grain and oil. To do this, as he says himself, he is making use of German weapons and openly calling for German intervention (Krasnov's speech of July 14 at Novocherkassk). [61] Can there be a baser or a more out-and-out enemy than Krasnov? Those who want, not in words but in deeds, to defend Russia from the violence of German imperialism must, first and foremost, say to themselves: it is necessary to secure our rear, and so we must crush the traitor Krasnov.

And what about the Czechoslovaks? Are they internal enemies or external enemies? The purpose of their revolt is now perfectly clear even to the blind. The French newspapers which reached us last week write openly that the task of the Czechoslovaks is to compel the ‘awkward Muscovites’ to resume the war with Germany. We knew this even earlier. Thus, the French Government, having taken charge of a body of our war prisoners, wants to force us into the war. This is also the purpose of the Anglo-French landing on the Murman coast. The struggle against the Czechoslovaks is a civil war, because the Russian counter-revolution relies upon the Czechoslovak hirelings of the French stock-exchange. At the same time, however, it is a Struggle against foreign imperialist aggression. Refusal to fight against the Czechoslovaks amounts to willingness to let Russia be crucified by Anglo-French imperialism, just as refusal to fight against Krasnov amounts to helping German imperialism. That is the naked truth of the matter. Everything else is sophistry and playing at hide and seek.

We must look still more deeply into the heart of the matter. Ninety-nine per cent of the officers say that they cannot take part in ‘civil war’. And yet no small number of officers do in fact take a very active part in it. In the first place, let me recall Krasnov’s revolt – the first open and extensive manifestation of the ‘officers’ civil war’. After that came a continuous series of revolts by Cossack officers, who drew behind them the most backward and conservative section of the rank-and-file Cossacks. Besides this there are even more shameful facts to be mentioned. When the Germans entered Dvinsk and Pskov, they found Russian officers there who greeted them as liberators. There can be no doubt that these very same officers were telling everyone, the day before the Germans entered that, though they were opposed to civil war, they were ready to defend the fatherland in any event, against an external enemy.

Ex-General Alekseyev worked hand in hand with Krasnov. They both fought against the Soviet Government. At present Krasnov, with the help of German arms, is trying to cut Russia off from the Don and the Kuban and starve out the Russian people. Yesterday’s ally of Krasnov, Alekseyev, is working with French money and with the help of the Vologda agents of the French stock-exchange to bring about revolts in Murom and Yaroslavl. [62] Tailing behind Krasnov and Alekseyev are numerous hypocritical opponents of ‘civil war’. To this must be added that some of these gentry, after voluntarily joining the Red Army, cross over, later on, to the Czechoslovaks or to the Anglo-French force on the Murman coast. This is sheer prostitution by these officers. One can't call it anything else.

What conclusions can we draw?

The officer corps was brought up to hold reactionary monarchist views. The revolution flabbergasted them. Different groups were formed among them. These were the main ones.

Unscrupulous elements with tarnished reputations quickly tried to ingratiate themselves with the new regime. The Rasputins and Pokrovskys [It is not clear to whom Trotsky is referring when he speaks of ‘the Pokrovskys’. Apart from the old Bolshevik M.N. Pokrovsky, the only person of that name well-known in public life in the years immediately preceding the revolution was N.N. Pokrovsky, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and he was an honest, upright man, by the standards of his circle (and an opponent of Rasputin). There was a White-Guard General named Pokrovsky, but he was a young man, only a Captain (he was one of Russia’s few airmen) when the revolution occurred. However, the name ‘Pokrovsky’ is a common one, and Trotsky may have been alluding to some crook who was notorious at the time but is now forgotten.] of the previous day hastily repainted themselves as Bolsheviks. There is no need to say anything about this scum: it merely requires to be eradicated.

A very important, although, alas, as yet only small group consists of officers who, to a greater or lesser extent, understood the significance of the revolution and the spirit of the new age. These officers are now working tirelessly at the creation of armed forces for the Soviet Republic. To require of them that they repaint themselves as Bolsheviks would be absurd. They must be appreciated and given support.

Next, there is the group of pen-pushers. They get on with their military-clerical duties, guided by the wise saying: ‘there’s always a boss to be obeyed’. There is nothing special to be said about them.

A substantial group is made up of direct, bitter and sworn enemies of the Soviet regime, militant counter-revolutionaries, who constitute the cadres of the Savinkovite and Alekseyevite adventurers. Towards them our position is clear: enemies are to be combated and exterminated.

The most numerous group consists of cowardly enemies, those who look over their shoulders, self-serving philistines who are waiting to see what will happen, who are essentially indifferent to the country's fate and who try to hold aloof, while yearning secretly for the return of things as they used to be. These are the persons, neither hot nor cold, who especially like to conceal their cowardly worthlessness behind phrases about civil war. Essentially, they are the reserves of the counter revolution. In the area of the Czechoslovak revolt these reservists go over into active service. Where power has passed into the hands of the Soviets, they engage in tittle-tattle, secretly cock a snook, and create an atmosphere of hostility around those officers who are working with us not from fear but in obedience to the dictates of their consciences.

We must put an end to this situation. Parasitism on the part of officers is just as intolerable as any other parasitism. The principle of compulsion must be applied here with redoubled force. The officers received their education at the expense of the people. Those who served Nicholas Romanov can and will serve when the working class orders them to. This does not mean in the least that the state power will entrust them all with posts of command. No, posts of command will go to those who show ready willingness to obey the workers’ and peasants’ power. The rest will be entrusted only with duties that include absolutely no powers of command. The former officers who are not doing anything are very ready to preach the saving power of discipline. The Soviet Government considers that the moment has come to subject the ill-affected officers, likewise, to severe discipline.

Izvestiya V.TsiK., No.154, July 23, 1918


60. This was the position taken up by many former officers in the period following the conclusion of the Brest treaty. They went to work in the screen on the Western Front, regarding it as necessary to help the Republic to organize resistance to the Germans, but wishing to take no part at all in the civil war in the South and East of the country.

61. The link between Krasnov and the Germans is clearly revealed in the correspondence published in Sbornik materialos i Statei (Collection of materials and articles) published by the Central Archives. A number of letters to Pyotr Nikolyevich Krasnov and Afrikan Pyotrovich Bogayevsky from Mikhail Svechin and Cheryachukin show that the latter two, as delegates from Krasnov, were engaged in mid-May 1918 in importuning Hetman Skoropadsky, the commander of the German forces Eichhorn, and the ambassador of ‘His Majesty’, Mumm, to help and intervene in the struggle against the Bolsheviks.

62. After the landing of the expeditionary force on the Murman coast and at Archangel, and the revolt of the Czechoslovaks (on which see note 79), the Allies tried, by organizing a number of revolts in towns situated along the upper Volga (Murom, Yaroslavl, Rybinsk) to create a link between the Northern and Czechoslovak Fronts.

Murom, where the Supreme Military Council had its headquarters, was seized by a White-Guard detachment during the night of July 9. The detachment’s leaders were N. Grigoryev and Lieutenant-Colonel Sakharov: the troops called themselves units of ‘the Volunteer Army of the North’, and Grigoryev’s title was ‘plenipotentiary of the Provisional National Government’. The town remained in the hands of the Whites during July 9, but on that day a detachment of the ‘Volunteers’, advancing along the railway line towards Arzamas, was beaten, and the rebels then abandoned the town.

The Yaroslavl revolt, which began on July 6, was a considerably more serious affair. It was organized by B. Savinkov. White officers who were serving in Soviet institutions suddenly, with the support of a section of the population, seized the center of the town, some steamers, and a large quantity of military stores. A number of responsible Soviet officials were arrested in their homes and shot (including Comrades Nakhinson and Zakgeim). In order to put down the revolt, forces from Moscow, Kostroma and Vologda were concentrated against Yaroslavl. The mobilization decreed by the Whites in the town did not prove successful. After intensive bombardment by artillery, the town was taken by our troops on July 21. The leaders of the revolt, headed by Perkhurov, fled up the Volga on a steamer. Perkhurov was arrested, tried and shot in 1923.

return return

Last updated on: 20.12.2006