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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ORDER No.43, October 5, 1918: Kozlov

ABOUT DESERTERS – Order No.44, October 7, 1918: Bobrov

ORDER No.55, November 4, 1918: Tsaritsyn

ORDER No.58, November 7, 1918

ORDER No.61, November 16, 1918

ORDER No.62, November 20, 1918: Liski station

ORDER No.64, November 24, 1918

ORDER No.65, November 24, 1918




by the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and the People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, to the troops on the Southern Front, October 5, 1918. No.43, Kozlov
To be read to all companies, batteries and squadrons

In the name of the Council of People’s Commissars I greet the Red troops on the Southern Front!

You have been waging the fight against the Krasnovite bands here for a long time, comrades. This fight has seen much heroism, many losses, many sacrifices. So far, however, our struggle has not produced the desired results. While our Eastern armies have taken Kazan, Simbirsk, Volsk, Khvalynsk and Syzran [Volsk is on the Volga, about half-way between Saratov and Syzran. Khvalynsk, also on the Volga, is about half-way between Volsk and Syzran.], and are still advancing steadily, on the Southern Front the struggle is proceeding with varying success, and the Krasnovite-German bands are still occupying Rostov and Novocherkassk.

The reason for this is, in part, that certain units have frequently shown insufficient staunchness. It has been enough for a squadron of Krasnovites to break through into the rear, and the unstable units have yielded to panic and started to retreat. This will not happen again. The overwhelming majority of you are honest soldiers of the workers’, peasants’ and Cossacks’ army. You yourselves will take the faint-hearted in hand. The best regiments will be given marks of distinction. The brave will be rewarded, before the entire country. Cowards, self-seekers and traitors will be cast out and severely punished.

But the principal cause of our past failures has been the fact that certain bodies of troops (brigades, divisions) have acted in a disorderly fashion: without maintaining communication with others, without any overall command, they have advanced or retreated at their own discretion. It has even happened more than once that commanders of certain bodies of troops have not carried out military orders received from higher up. This pernicious and criminal behavior will henceforth be eradicated.

At the head of all the armies of the Southern Front is a Revolutionary War Council which at present consists of: Front Commander P.P. Sytin; People’s Commissar A.G. Shlyapnikov; member of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic K.A. Mekhonoshin; and former member of the Board of the People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs P. Lazimir. The commander, P.P. Sytin, is an experienced military leader who has shown by his deeds his loyalty to the workers’ and peasants revolution. Comrades Shlyapnikov, Mekhonoshin and Lazimir are old and tried fighters for the cause of the working people. This Council stands at the head of all the armies of the Southern Front. All the orders and decisions of the Council are to be obeyed unconditionally and immediately.

Commanders and commissars who dare to infringe the rules of discipline shall, regardless of past merit, be immediately committed for trial before the Revolutionary Military Tribunal of the Southern Front.

I issue this warning:

If a unit cracks up, easily yielding to panic, the comminder and the commissar will be held guilty.

If a unit retreats instead of advancing, the commander and the commissar with be held guilty.

They will answer for their units in accordance with martial law.

Soldiers of the Southern Front! The hour of decisive action has sounded for you. The White-Guard bands must be crushed. Close your ranks more tightly. The Soviet Republic awaits your great achievements and will reward you according to your merits. Forward to victory!


Order by the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, October 7, 1918, no.44, Bobrov
[Bobrov is about 100 kilometres south-east of Voronezh, on the railway ltn’ king Kharkov with Saratov]

At this time when the regiments of the Red Army are fighting honorably at the front, defending the workers and peasants from the brigand bands of Krasnov, some cowards, self-seekers and traitors are quitting their units and hiding themselves in their villages.

I declare:

  1. It is the duty of rural Soviets and Committees of the Poor to arrest deserters and bring them under secure guard to the headquarters of divisions or regiments.
  2. If unapprehended deserters are discovered in any village, responsibility for this will be placed upon the chairman of the Soviet and the chairman of the Committee of the Poor, who will be subject to immediate arrest.
  3. Any deserter who immediately presents himself at the headquarters of a division or regiment and declares: ‘I am a deserter, but I swear that in future I will fight with honor is to be pardoned and allowed to perform the high duties of a warrior of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Army.
  4. A deserter who offers resistance to arrest is to be shot on the spot.


by the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, November 4, 1918, No.55, Tsaritsyn

While touring the front of the Tenth Army I was able to acquaint myself with the units stationed there. Most of them already have great services to their credit. There are units which, after breaking out of a ring of enemies, marched for hundreds of versts under conditions of immense difficulty and privation. Most of these units display internal unity and a bond with the commanding personnel the necessary condition of military success. Among the soldiers and commanders are many real heroes, whose names must be made known to the whole country. To the Steel Division, the Communist Division and the Morozovsk Division [Morozovsk is a town in the Donbas.] and the Don-Stavropol Brigade I presented banners of honor, on behalf of the All-Russia CEC of the Soviets.

It is clear to all serious workers that we cannot rest content with the successes achieved. Further steps are needed for organising and welding the Tenth Army into a single whole.

On the Tenth Army’s front there are some military units which bear the title of divisions but which are not in fact divisions. All military groupings and groups can and must be reduced, within a short time, to a few divisions composed according to the establishment laid down, after these divisions have been ensured the necessary commanding apparatus and supply services.

Political work has hardly begun in the units so far. Every division, every regiment and every independently-operating brigade must be provided with commissars, in whose hands the ideological leadership of the life of their units must be concentrated.

The expenditure of military Stores is proceeding without anything like the necessary circumspection. Resolute and systematic measures must be taken against this. It is necessary that the commanding personnel themselves be filled with the idea, and that they fill their units with it, that weapons and military stores are public property which has to be very carefully preserved, and expended with all due care. The commanders of units where excessive expenditure of artillery material takes place must be punished, and, contrariwise, those units in which order prevails in this matter must be given special awards.

Certain units which emerged from the guerrilla struggle are still far from having grasped the idea that they are now no longer independent forces but units of a centralised army. The result of this is sometimes a lack of co-ordination in operations. Commanders exist who do not realise that an order is an order and must be obeyed unconditionally. There have been cases when a commander who does not want to carry out an operational order has put it to a meeting for discussion, and hidden behind that meeting. This evil must be burnt out with a red-hot iron. As citizens, soldiers may in their free time hold meetings on any subject. As soldiers, on service and at the front, they will carry out unquestioningly the military orders of the authority established by the workers’ and peasants’ government. If d body of troops refuses to carry out an order, the guilt for this lies with the commanders and commissars. In those cases where commanders and commissars are up to their jobs, units never refuse to fulfill their revolutionary duty. Therefore I order that, when cases occur of causeless retreat, panic or non-fulfillment of military orders, the respective commanders and commissars be immediately removed from their posts and court-martialed.

The basic military formation in our army is the division. The commanders and commissars of a division have an immense task to perform and carry immense responsibility. While establishing, together with the commissar, strict discipline in his division, the divisional commander must at the same time give a personal example of strict and unconditional obedience to the operational orders of the army commander, just as the army commander, in his turn, has to work in strict conformity with the directives of the commander of the Southern Front. Only thus will the work of the Tenth Army bring the maximum results, and the heroism of its Red regiments, their efforts and sacrifices, lead us very soon to decisive victory over the Krasnovite-Cadet bands.

As I leave the Tenth Army’s area of operations I send fraternal greetings to all its honorable soldiers.


by the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Coundl of the Republic and the People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, November 7, 1918, No.58

Comrade soldiers! You are fighting on the shores of the Caspian Sea. From there the foes of Workers’ and Peasants’ Russia want to Strike a mortal blow at us. German, British, Turkish and Russian imperialist aggressors, separately and together, are trying to seize Astrakhan and Tsaritsyn, to link up with the Czechoslovaks and White Guards in the Urals, and to strangle the workers’ and peasants revolution. You are defending it, you are fighting honorably and courageously for the interests of the working people. We have formed on the Caspian Sea a strong naval flotilla which is growing in strength daily. This flotilla has already captured seven of the enemy’s best transports. It will soon dominate the whole of the Caspian Sea. Your task is to consolidate our position on its shores. You will carry out that task. Fresh reinforcements will come forward to help you. The whole of Soviet Russia looks to you with hope. Ruthlessly drive out cowards and self-seekers from your midst! Brave and honorable soldiers, forward! The Soviet Republic will value and reward you according to your merits.


by the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and the People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs to the Red Army and the Red Navy, November 16, 1918, No.61

According to information received, which is confirmed by the course of events, the Anglo-French imperialists, frightened by the rapid development of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, have decided to. direct all their efforts towards disorganising and disintegrating our Units. For this purpose they have sent in many military agents who, disguised as soldiers and commanders, are penetrating into the ranks of the Red Army, spreading false rumours there, and trying, by means of deception and bribery, to bring about confusion among the Soldiers fighting on the Soviet fronts.

I order commissars and commanders and all conscious, advanced and honorable soldiers generally, to watch out for the activity of mercenary scoundrels of this sort, who take cover behind various party names and who are, essentially, the hirelings of foreign capital. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army on which now depends the fate of our country and the development of the world revolution, must be purged, in the shortest possible time, of criminal and traitorous elements.


By the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic and the People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, to the Eighth Army, November 20, 1918, no.62. Liski station. Secret.

Most units of the Eighth Army are distinguished by extreme lack of steadiness. [104] Whole regiments frequently go to pieces when they clash with insignificant and also not very steady units of the enemy. The collapse of such units is forcing the com mand of the Eighth Army to stop the gaps thus made with fresh units that are barely formed. These unitS then suffer the same fate, that is, they often break up at their first test in battle. The only way to put an end to this state of affairs and enhance the staunchness of the army is through a system of organisational, educational and repressive measures introduced with a firm hand from above.

First and foremost, the commanding personnel must be taken in hand. Unit commanders have become accustomed to violating military orders with impunity, and referring, to justify themselves, to the willingness or unwillingness of their units. Some commanders reply like this to military orders: ‘My unit won’t march ... My unit is tired and won’t advance ... My soldiers have not received, when they should, their pay or an issue of warm underwear: they won’t go forward until they get what is due to them.’ A commander who is capable of giving such replies is either a fool or a criminal.

In our Red Army there is no class antagonism between the mass of the soldiers, on the one hand, and the officers and the Government, on the other. Working-class public opinion unitedly demands strict discipline on the part of the soldiers. Our Red soldiers will subordinate themselves unconditionally to their commanders if the latter make it their duty to secure fulfillment of orders at all costs, at any price.

The commander who has no confidence in himself and is not prepared to secure submission to a military order is not capable of leading soldiers, and must be reduced to the ranks in his own regiment.

Commanders often show extreme negligence and slovenliness in the matter of communications, posting of sentries and security while on the march, and also in their operational and intelligence reports. The firmest discipline must be established in this sphere. The slightest departure from the requirements and rules of military procedure must be punished in accordance with martial law. A tolerant attitude by commanders where these matters are concerned, must itself render them liable to be brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal, as constituting one of the gravest of crimes.

It must be laid down once and for all, as an unshakable rule, that every Red officer is answerable for his unit, and all attempts to hide behind the backs of units must be punished severely.

In their despatches, unit commanders often speak of withdrawals which are said to have taken place after some hours of ‘fierce fighting’, and of ‘enormous losses’ suffered in battle. In the majority of cases what has to be understood by a stubborn struggle is seme disorderly and senseless exchange of shots without any definlte purpose, resulting in heavy expenditure of ammunition but not one step of forward movement. By huge losses is meant, in most cases, desertions and the break-up of units. It is necessary to make commanders realize, under threat of the most severe penalties, that their duty is to be precise and conscientious, and in their operational reports to give, even if only approximately, the number of killed and wounded, and not to hush up cases of desertion but to call this by its true name.

Commissars must remember that they are answerable for the morale of their units and for the conscientiousness of the work of the commanders. A commissar who countersigns a dishonest report by a commander commits a very grave crime. During batyle a commissar must, especially at critical moments, keep the lower commanding personnel under observation. In those units where the regimental commander and the company and platoon commanders remain at their posts and confidently lead their units, panic does not occur, the soldiers know that they are under firm leadership, they trust their commanders, and they do their duty. Panic, disarray, desertion, breakdown are mainly the responsibility of the commanders, and therefore of the commissars. Every commissar must, after every setback suffered by his unit, consider carefully where the chief blame lies, report unworthy commanders, and, where necessary, arrest on the spot obvious self-seekers who, while not averse to bearing the title of commander in peaceful circumstances, hide behind the units when fighting begins, and incite them to retreat to a place of safety. It is the commissar’s duty to see that the Revolutionary Tribunal shoots such scoundrels. It is necessary, with an iron hand, to make commanders, and through them all soldiers, understand that an army exists not for fun and not for passing the time peacefully, but for the harsh business of war, for safeguarding by force of arms the freedom and indepen dence of the land of labor. Danger, wounds, death, all are an inseparable aspect of the life of a warrior. Fearing them means destroying the whole meaning of the army’s existence. Our Red Army has been given such a lofty aim that no sacrifices can seem too great for its attainment.

We must root out once and for all the very notion that crimes against military duty, whether committed by individuals or by groups, can be left unpunished. A tireless struggle must be waged against desertion. For obvious and notorious deserters there can be only one punishment – shooting. All executions must be published in army orders, giving the names of those executed, the names of their units, and, where possisible, the addresses of their families.

In those cases where special circumstances – first and foremost, the guilt of commanders – induce the Tribunal conditionally to return deserters, or men suspected of desertion, to active units, these men under conditional sentence must be made to wear distinctive black collars, so that those around them may know that, at the first fresh offence by these conditionally pardoned soldiers; there can be no mercy or repetition of leniency towards them. If, during a retreat, a soldier throws away his rifle, his boots, or any part of his uniform, equipment or armament, the cost of the articles concerned is to be recovered through deductions from the soldier’s pay. Depending on the circumstances in which the loss was incurred, deductions may be effected up to the full amount of the s6ldier’s pay over a certain number of months.

Along with punitive measures, incentives are also needed. Commissars and commanders must reward outstanding war riors of the Red Army with gifts, money payments, and the Order of the Red Banner, and the most valiant regiments must be presented with banners of honor.

At the same time the supply organs of the Eighth Army, which at present work very badly indeed, must be set to rights. The attitude towards their work of the persons in charge of the supply services is purely formal and bureaucratic – not just no better, but even worse, than in the old Tsarist army. The task of supply does not consist in covering oneself, so far as the Government is concerned, by means of telegrams, reports and accounts that are more or less fictitious. It consists in getting to every soldier all the articles needed for clothing, feeding, arming and equipping him. Hitherto, the heads of the supply services of the Eighth Army have not managed to obtain the necessary articles from the centre or to distribute them in a planned way and in good time.

I remind all concerned that everyone serving in a military institution is on war service, and that any slovenliness, impreci sion or negligence, and (all the more so) any lack of conscientiousness, will be punished in accordance with martial law.

This order is to be conveyed in printed form to all comman ders and to all persons serving at headquarters and in supply organs, through the commissars, for personal signature. All the signatures must be sent, via Eighth Army headquarters, to the Revolutionary War Council of the Southern Front.


By the Chairman of the Revolutionavy War Coundi of the Republic and the People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs to all troops on the Southern Front, November 24, 1918, No.64

Our forces on the North-Caucasian front have won great victories, cleansing extensive areas of the White Guard bands and penetrating into Krasnov’s rear. [105] There is breakdown and collapse among the soldiers of Krasnov and Denikin. The poorly-clothed, poorly-armed, forcibly mobilised Cossacks and peasants are, in considerable numbers, ready to surrender to the Red forces, but are held back by fear that they will be shot.

I order all commanders, leaders of units and commissars to pay strict heed to ensure that any peasants and working Cossacks, mobilised by Krasnov, who come over to our side are not subjected to any penalties. Every Cossack or peasant who changes his mind and lays down his arms must be received not as an enemy but as a friend. I forbid, on pain of strictest punishment, the shooting of rank-and-file Cossacks and enemy soldiers. The time is soon coming when the working Cossacks, after settling accounts with their counter-revolutionary officers, will be united with the whole of working Russia under the banner of the Soviet power.


by the Chairman of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic to the troops and Soviet institutions on the Southern Front, November 24, 1918, No.65

Krasnov and the foreign capitalists who are behind him have thrown on to the Voronezh Front hundreds of hired agents who, under various guises, have penetrated Red Army units and are there carrying on base work, corrupting our men and inciting them to desert. In a few shaky units on the Voronezh front one can actually observe the signs of demoralization, cowardice and self-seeking. While, on all other fronts and in the case of all other armies, the Red forces are chasing the enemy and advancing, on the Voronezh front senseless, criminal retreats and the break-up of whole regiments are taking place frequently.

I declare that from now on an end must be put to this, by ruthless means.

  1. Every scoundrel who incites anyone to retreat, to desert or not to fulfil a military order, is to be shot.
  2. Every soldier of the Red Army who voluntarily deserts his post is to be shot.
  3. Every soldier who throws away his rifle or sells part of his uniform is to be shot.
  4. Battle-police units are to be stationed along the entire front-line zone, in order to catch deserters. Any soldier who tries to offer resistance to these units is to be shot on the spot.
  5. All local Soviets and Committees of the Poor, are obligated, on their part, to take all measures to catch deserters. Deserter-hunts are to be carried out twice in every 24 hours, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Captured deserters are to be handed over to the headquarters of the nearest unit or to the nearest military commissariat.
  6. Persons guilty of harbouring deserters are liable to be shot
  7. Houses in which deserters are found will be burnt down.

Death to self-seekers and traitors!
Death to deserters and agents of Krasnov!
Long live the honorable soldiers of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army!


I. Who is Krasnov?

He is a former Tsarist general, from the landlord class. Krasnov is a monarchist, that is, he wants to restore the power of the Tsar and the nobles.

In October of last year, when the Petrograd workers established their Soviet power, thereby setting an example to the working people of all Russia and of the whole world, Krasnov led Cossacks whom he had deceived against Petrograd. He hoped at that time to seize power, but, instead, he was taken prisoner by the Petrograd workers. Krasnov gave his word never again to fight against the workers’ and peasants’ power. The workers let him go. But he dishonorably broke his word and raised a revolt on the Don against the Soviet power. Rivers of our brothers’ blood have flowed because of Krasnov.

2. But doesn’t Krasnov swear that he is fighting for the interests of Russia?

Don’t take Krasnov at his word. You may know him by his deeds. And they are these. A year ago Krasnov was blaming the Soviet power because it was not waging war against Germany. Then Krasnov made an alliance with the German Kaiser Wilhelm, and received money, shells and cartridges from him for use against the Russian workers and peasants. But the German workers overthrew the German Kaiser. Krasnov at once went over to the other side, and is now summoning British and French troops to the Ukraine and the Don. Krasnov is ready to put the entire Russian people under a foreign yoke, just so as to re-establish with the help of foreign bayonets the power of the Russian landlords and Cossack generals. Krasnov on the Don is the same as Skoropadsky in the Ukraine. They are both dishonorable enemies of the working people.

3. Is it true that Krasnov stands for order?

Krasnov stands for the order of the Tsar and the nobles – against the order of the workers and peasants. But Krasnov’s activity sows nothing but one long bloody disorder. Krasnov cut the Don country off from all the rest of Russia and deprived the inhabitants of the Don country of textiles and other goods. Who is raising bloody discord? Krasnov and his bands. Who is driving the barefoot and badly-clothed Cossacks and peasants to fight their brothers? Krasnov. Who is destroying the loads and blowing up the bridges? Krasnov’s bands.

To establish order, peace and honest labor in Russia, Krasnov’s bands must be crushed.

4. Why do the Cossacks follow the traitor Krasnov?

Not all of them do. There are not a few honest, working, conscious Cossacks who are fighting against Krasnov in the ranks of the Red Army. Unfortunately, though, there are Still a considerable section of the Cossacks who do follow Krasnov. These are, first and foremost, the Cossack officers and rich men – the kulaks. They have drawn after them the old and ignorant Cossacks who think in the old way. But the young ones haven’t shown much spirit up to now. So Krasnov lords it over the Cossacks: through the officers he controls the old men., and through them he controls the youngsters.

This is a final warning to you, Cossacks!

The crime of Krasnov and his allies has hardened the hearts of the workers and peasants. Hatred for Krasnov often extends to the Cossacks in general. More and more often voices are heard among the workers and peasants, saying: ‘We must exterminate all the Cossacks: then peace and tranquillity will come to the South of Russia!’ This is, of course, untrue, and unjust. But the longer that the Cossacks continue to be a blind weapon in Krasnov’s hands, the more harshly will the soldiers of the Red Army deal with them.

What way is left for you, working Cossacks?

There is only one: to break with Krasnov and return to peaceful labor.

In the name of the Council of People’s Commissars I proclaim:

Cossacks who lay down their arms and submit to the Soviet power will suffer no punishment. I strictly forbid the shooting of rank-and-file Cossacks taken prisoner. Anyone guilty of going against this order will answer for it in accordance with the full severity of the law.

A Cossack who voluntarily gives himself up is to be received as a friend.

A Cossack who voluntarily hands over his rifle to us is to receive in exchange either a uniform or 600 roubles in money.

Working Cossacks!

Stop the fratricide! Arrest your traitor officers! Hand over your weapons. Return in peace to your families!

The Soviet power guarantees you peace, tranquillity and independence, hand in hand with the workers and peasants of all Russia.

Voronezh, December 10, 1918


104. The Eighth Army was formed from units of the southern sector of the screens Two infantry divisions had been formed in that sector the 12th and 13th – and, under the blows of Krasnov’s Cossack regiments, advancing along the Liski-Talovaya railway, organizational work was carried on aimed at forming from them this first regular army on the Southern Front. The reasons for the Eighth Army’s defeat were the presence of Krasnov’s great masses of cavalry, our complete lack oforganisation, and the absence of discipline. Comrade Trotsky’s first visit coincided with a series of setbacks at the front. When he arrived at Army Headquarters Comrade Trotsky was unable to obtain from the commander any information about the location of his units.

105. The reference is to the heroic struggle of the Eleventh Army of the North-Caucasian Front which, cut off from the centre, drew upon itself the whole of Denikin’s Volunteer Army, preventing them from giving any help to Krasnov. At the end of October the Tamam Army [Serafimovich’s novel The Iron Flood describes the experiences of the Taman Army in this campaign.] took Stavropol and directly threatened Krasnov’s rear. A severe epidemic of typhus (40,000 soldiers were sick at the same time), the extreme exhaustion of the Red Army men, the shortage of supplies, and complete isolation from the centre brought this army almost to the brink of collapse. After their withdrawal to Astrakhan, the remnants of the Eleventh Army constituted the cadres of the famous 33rd Kuban, 7th Cavalry and 34th Rifle Divisions, which fought on the fronts of the civil war until the very end.

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Last updated on: 18.12.2006