The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed



Report read in Moscow, in the Hall of Columns in the House of the Unions, February 24, 1919

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

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First of all, my sincere apology for my lateness, the responsibility for which has not yet been established. An opinion exists that I am the one responsible. But I permit myself not to agree with this: I think somebody else is responsible. We will determine that later, in all honesty ... Punctuality is a great thing, especially in the military sphere, and there can be no doubt that our chief misfortune, our fundamental fault, one may say, consists in unpunctuality, in not being accustomed to carrying out an order precisely and punctually, in having a disrespectful attitude to time. Yet time is a major condition for success. In military operations, the gaining of a day, an hour, five minutes, can sometimes have decisive importance for the outcome of a battle. Today our public and, in particular, our military education must consist in developing the habit of exact performance of everything that it is a person’s duty to perform. Once again I express my regret for the abuse of your time, which is so necessary for your work, and I proceed to the substance of the matter before us.

Comrades, we celebrated yesterday the anniversary of the formation of our Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, and yesterday, likewise, at the training course in the building of the former Alekseyevsk Military School, I had occasion to say that, by and large, we have every right to look back with moral satisfaction on the twelve months that have passed in our joint, common work to build the Red Army.

Various peoples in various epochs have found themselves in a difficult situation, comrades, but I do not think that a historian could find another example when a great people was in such a frightful situation, both international and internal, as the Russian people were in at the end of the imperialist slaughter. The collapse of our old army was inevitable. Persons with the old time police mentality might suppose that it was ‘agitators’ that brought the old army to ruin. Actually, the agitators merely put into words what was happening in reality even without them. Once the revolution had occurred, once the peasant had revolted against the landlord and the official, and the worker against the capitalist and the banker, that same worker and peasant, in the shape of a soldier, had to revolt against the son of that same nobleman or bourgeois, who confronted him in the shape of an officer of the old army. These three processes were closely connected one with another. Once the soldier masses had revolted against the old commanding apparatus, created by the old monarchy and serving it – in the case of some of its members from fear, in that of others, from conscience – once that revolt had taken place, the army was bound to go to pieces. That this was not due to accidental causes we can now see from the example of other countries, from the example of Germany and of Austria Hungary, where the collapse of the old army is taking place, or rather, has taken place, in just the same way as happened here – and no trace has been left of an army that was incomparably stronger than our old Tsarist army, neither in Germany nor in Austria Hungary. Just look: today, Prussia, the most highly militarised, best armed and disciplined of all countries, cannot raise even a few regiments to defend its eastern border from invasion by the Polish legions.

Thus, the process of disintegration of the old army constructed by the old ruling classes is identical in all countries. This fact allows us to draw two conclusions and to commit them firmly to memory. First, that our old army, like the Austro-Hungarian one and the German, too, broke up not for accidental reasons but through profound internal causes, and that its break up was inevitable: the great chain binding, in a bond of slavery, the oppressed class to the exploiters was broken, and the old army collapsed. [2] There is no going back on that. That is the first conclusion. The second conclusion, which is also of enormous importance, is that after the collapse of our old Russian army, after the collapse of the Austro Hungarian and German armies, there will follow with the same inevitability the collapse of the armies of Italy, France, Great Britain and America – of all the armies of imperialism in general, that is, of the armies built by monarchs or by republican bourgeois in various countries, through the enslavement and subjection of their own people, for the conquest and plundering of other peoples. This conclusion is not a phrase such as is sometimes casually thrown out at meetings, it is no mere agitational slogan, but a conclusion of historical science, which was forecast earlier, at the very beginning of the war, and which has now been confirmed by the experience of Russia, Germany and Austria Hungary and will tomorrow inevitably find confirmation in the experience of France, Britain and the other bourgeois countries. Certainty on this point gives wings to our spirit in the present struggle against the imperialism of the countries of the Entente: history will not allow imperialism to survive.

The old army broke up here at a time when our country’s life was shaken to its deepest economic foundations. Our agricultural country is, we know, far from having exhausted its agricultural resources, but its railway network, the entire apparatus of its transport system and its commercial and industrial communications, have been ruined, and the country has thus been dismembered. We have some provinces that are inexpressibly rich in foodstuffs, and others that cannot escape from the torments and cramps of hunger. Dislocation of food supplies is, of course, a condition unfavourable for creating an army. But that is not yet all. The collapse of the old army left behind it a fierce hatred of militarism. The old army, which had suffered incredibly heavy losses, had known only defeat, humiliation, retreat, millions of dead and maimed, milliards of money squandered. It is not surprising if this war left in the people?s minds a passionate revulsion against militarism, against everything to do with war. And it was under those conditions, comrades, that we began to create an army. If it had been our lot to build it on virgin soil, there would have been greater hopes and possibilities from the very outset. But no, we had to build the army on a soil covered with the filth and blood of the old war, a soil of want and exhaustion, in a situation where hatred for war and militarism held millions and millions of workers and peasants in its grip. That was why many people, not only enemies but friends as well, said at that time that the experiment of forming an army in the next few years here in Russia would remain fruitless. We replied: ‘There can be no room for doubt. Neither Germany nor France nor Britain will wait for decades: therefore, whoever says that the Russian people will not create an army for itself in the next few months is saying that history has finished with the Russian people, and their corpse is doomed to be torn to pieces by the kites of West European imperialism.’

Naturally, the Soviet Government and the Party which is in power, the Communist Party, could not accept that nothing would come of these efforts. No, we did not doubt that the army would be created, if only it were given a new idea, a new moral foundation. There, comrades, was the whole heart of the matter.

An army is, of course, a material organisation, put together, to a certain degree, in accordance with its own internal laws and armed with those instruments of technique that are provided by the state of industry in general and, in particular, of militarytechnical science. But to see in an army only men exercising, manoeuvring and fighting, that is, to see only their bodies, to see only rifles, machine guns and cannon, means not to see the army, for all that is merely the outward expression of a different, an inner force. An army is strong if it is bound together by an internal ideological bond. In the first days of the establishment of the new workers’ and peasants’ order, the Soviet power said that, despite the terrible calamities the country had suffered, despite the exhaustion and the universal aversion to militarism and war, the Russian workers and peasants would create an army in a short space of time if they felt and appreciated that this army was needed for defending the most fundamental conquests of the working people, if this idea passed through their consciousness, if every thinking worker and peasant understood that the army he was being called upon to build was his own army.

It was from this standpoint that at that time we also evaluated the peace of Brest Litovsk. [3] We signed that peace treaty knowing that there was no other way out, for we had no strength. But at the same time we said: from this experience every worker and peasant will become convinced that the Soviet Government has found itself obliged to make the most far reaching concessions so as to win a respite, even if only a short one, for the exhausted people: and if, after we have honestly and openly offered peace to all the nations and after we have agreed to the most burdensome concessions – if, after all that, we are attacked, then it will be clear to everyone that we do indeed need an army.

At first this awareness took possession of the working masses only gradually. Many of you served, in the past, in our regiments of the first period, and you will remember what those regiments were like at the beginning of last year. The regiments were then something like turnstiles. Under the slogan of voluntary enlistment there entered the ranks of these regiments, to be sure, some very conscious and courageous workers. But others also came in who were people simply unable to settle down anywhere, ex soldiers who had found no application for their capacities, often adventurers, seekers after easy pickings. The regiments were not fighting units, and many times it happened that, when a regiment was sent into battle, it disintegrated at the first moment We were having shown to us from every angle the un militant mood of the masses. Even some old military specialists, old generals, came to the conclusion that the Russian people were, generally speaking, not a warrior people and that the experience of the last war had demonstrated this fact once again. From another angle, the practical obstacles were pointed out to us: the lack of commanding personnel and, finally, the lack of the necessary equipment, especially artillery. And we really were cut off from everything and surrounded by obstacles. But when the workers and peasants were placed face to face with the, danger of the complete crushing and dismembering of Soviet Russia, then there appeared the will to create an army, and also that very fighting spirit which some had said was alien to the Russian people.

In the past, the fighting spirit of the Russian soldier, that is, in the main, of the Russian peasant, had been passive, patient, all enduring. They took him from his village, put him in a regiment and drilled him: they sent the regiment off in a certain direction, and the soldier went with his regiment, he shot, slashed, chopped, and died ... with each man individually unaware of why and for what he was fighting. When the soldier began to reflect and criticise, he rebelled, and the old army disappeared. To re create it, new ideological foundations were needed: it was necessary that every soldier should know what he was fighting for. That was why this terrible threat of destruction was a necessary precondition for the re establishment of our army. We summoned the best, most advanced workers of Petrograd and Moscow to all our fronts at the time of our greatest disasters, in the summer of 1918, and in this graphic way we forced the mass of the workers and peasants to understand that what was at stake was a matter of life or death for our country. After that, approximately in August 1918, came the turn that saved us, a turn which began not in the rear (in the rear, comrades, we are even now very far behind the front) but at the front. It was not the units which had been formed more or less tranquilly, under barrack conditions, that proved to be the most disciplined and combat ready: no, it was those units which had been put together at the front, directly under fire – after waverings and retreats, sometimes panicky ones, they quickly acquired, under the political leadership of advanced and self sacrificing proletarians, the necessary inner tempering.

The enormous importance of a moral idea for the creation of an army has been known not only to every actual commander but also to every writer on military matters. You read in school textbooks, too, that an army can be strong only if it is bound together by some great idea. But that concept became a cliché in the old military manuals, and many of the professors who readily repeat the phrase about an army being strong through a moral idea, through its spirit, are often unaware of what is the moral idea, the spirit of our present army. And for this reason, when we began to build the army by way of conscription, going over from the voluntary principle to compulsory service, and we excluded bourgeois and kulaks from the army, some of the military specialists told us that such an army would be impracticable, because it was a class army, and what we needed was an army ‘of the whole people’.

We replied that to have an army of the whole people one must have an idea that is common to the whole people, and where among us was the idea that could unite today our Red regiments with the regiments of Kolchak and Krasnov? Krasnov betrayed Russia first to the Allies, then to the Germans, then again to the French and British. Kolchak betrays Russia to the Americans, Shcherbachev to the Romanians, and so on. I ask, where is that common idea which could inspire at one and the same time both General Krasnov and our worker and peasant soldiers? Such a moral idea does not exist. These two camps are separated by irreconcilable class enmity. Each of these two armies, the Red and the White, has its own idea: one has the moral idea of liberation, the other the immoral idea of enslavement. But to unite them into a single army of the whole people is unthinkable. It is a utopian, false, chimerical notion.

We live in an epoch when a durable and strong army can only be a class army, that is, an army of the working people, of the workers and the peasants who do not exploit the labour of others. Complete liberation of the working people by their own armed efforts is the highly moral idea which serves as the very foundation of our army. Every attempt to create an army on a different basis reveals its inner rottenness. Hetman Skoropadsky, who, happily, already belongs to the realm of the past, counterposed to our class army his own army composed of Ukrainian farmers possessing not less than 25 desyatins of land. He mobilised the kulaks, the bourgeoisie. But the Constituent Assembly, of blessed memory, tried, in the Urals, at Ufa and in Siberia, to build an army not on the class principle but as an army of the whole people. Thus we have before us, as in a chemical experiment being carried out ina laboratory, three armies: our own Red Army, which conquered the kulak army of Skoropadsky in the Ukraine (an army that proved to be insignificant) and the Constituent Assembly’s ‘non-class’ army ‘of the whole people’, which disintegrated. All that remained was Kolchak’s counter-revolutionary army, and the Constituent Assembly men, the Right SRs, were forced to desert their comrade inarms and flee to us, to the territory of Soviet Russia, to seek hospitality here. [4] And if we are able to offer them hospitality and protect them from Kolchak, it is only because we have built not an army ‘of the whole people’, mixing fire with water, but our own Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, which has secured the freedom and independence of Soviet Russia. In building our army we kept firmly to the class principle as our basis, to a purely class army which is filled with the idea of labour, of struggle for the interests of labour, and is vitally linked with the working masses of the whole country. These are simple facts, simple ideas, but at the same time they are fundamental and unshakable – without them our army would never have been created. For, in the conditions in which we built it, comrades, in this worn out country, after the imperialist bloodletting, what was needed was the clearest, most indisputable and sacred idea, which would touch the heart of every worker, in order that it might become possible for us to build the army.

A terrible danger loomed up before us, as you recall, late in the summer of 1918. In the West the Germans had occupied not only Poland, Lithuania and Latvia but also Byelorussia, and a considerable part of Great Russia was under the heel of German militarism: Pskov was in German hands. The Ukraine had become an Austro-German colony. In the East the revolt of the Czechoslovaks took place in the summer of 1918. [5] It was organised by the French and British but, at the same time, the Germans told us openly through their representatives that, if this revolt approached Moscow from the East, the Germans would move on Moscow from the West, from Orsha and Pskov: we found ourselves literally between the hammer of German and the anvil of Anglo-French imperialism. In the North, the summer saw the landing of Anglo-French forces at Murmansk and Archangel, and the threat that they would advance to Vologda. At Yaroslavl a White Guard revolt broke out, organised by Savinkov on the orders of the French ambassador Noulens, with a view to enabling the Allied forces to link up, through Vologda and Yaroslavl, with the Czechoslovaks and White Guards on the Volga, by way of Vyatka, Nizhny-Novgorod, Kazan and Perm. That was their plan. In the South, on the Don, a revolt led by Krasnov was developing. Krasnov was then in direct alliance with the Germans, openly boasting of it and receiving financial and military aid from them. But the British and the French realised that if they succeeded in descending the Volga to Astrakhan and their left flank then turned round into North Caucasia and the Don country and linked up with Krasnov, the latter would readily move over into the Anglo-French camp, since for him it was all the same to whom he sold himself: he needed help in order to maintain the rule of the landlords on the Don and to restore it throughout the country. Thus, from the very start, our front began to threaten to turn into a ring that would tighten more and more closely around Moscow, the heart of Russia.

In the West were the Germans, in the North and East the Anglo French and White Guards, in the South there was Krasnov, equally prepared to serve either camp: in the Ukraine was Skoropadsky, the henchman of German imperialism. What saved us at that moment was the fact that Britain, France and Germany were still fighting each other (although even then our White Guards formed a link between them). The great danger was that behind our back, that is, behind the back of crushed and crucified Russia, an agreement might be reached between German and Anglo French imperialism before the European proletariat rose in revolt. At that period our country had shrunk almost to the limits of the old Grand Duchy of Muscovy, and was still shrinking. The most immediate danger threatened from the East, where the Czechoslovak corps formed an axis to which the counter revolution clung. Our first efforts were directed eastward, towards the Volga.

In what did these efforts consist? As I have already mentioned, comrades, we turned to the best workers of Petrograd and Moscow, we took from the instructors’ courses the enthusiasts, the best elements from among the volunteers, the most courageous of them, and we formed small units composed of Communists. We proceeded from the conception that the army is nothing but the armed vanguard of the working class itself, and so we turned to the workers and told them the truth about the situation and demanded that they show initiative and energy. Under the blows of our enemies, before Simbirsk and before Kazan, despite the fact that we had, perhaps, a certain superiority in numbers, we retreated, sometimes in a panicky way, because on the other side was superiority in training and knowledge, and also superiority in fury and hatred on the part of the property owners, deprived of their property, against the workers? and peasants? army. Finally they had the tremendous advantage that we were defending whereas they were attacking, so that they were able to choose our weakest spot. They chose the place on Soviet territory that they designated, and the moment that they preferred. We possessed the theoretical advantage (only later did it become a real and actual one) that we were operating from the centre, along internal operational lines, along radii. [6] Being disconnected, our enemies operated and are operating in different places, not as a compact front but in shock groups. We were obliged by the logic of things gradually to form a compact front, and this front of ours now stretches for 8,000 versts. I don’t know if historians of war know of any other case when a front has extended over such an immense distance.

On the part of our enemies the war could be and has been waged in guerrilla style, in the sense that small detachments, having selected a certain objective, a particular target, struck at it in order to do us damage. The significance of guerrilla warfare lies in weakening the stronger side. Guerrilla warfare as such cannot bring complete victory, that is, victory over an organised army. Guerrilla warfare does not, generally speaking, set itself that aim: it harasses, inflicts jabs, irritates, destroys railway tracks, brings chaos – that is the advantage of guerrilla warfare as a weapon of the weaker against the stronger. It was intended to do us damage and to weaken us.

Defence would have been incomparably easier if we had had throughout the country a militia, that is, a purely territorial, local army, made up of workers and peasants armed and trained on the spot, so that a regiment corresponded to a volost or to a factory, while an uyezd corresponded to a division, or two divisions ... Then we could have fought everywhere with local forces. A militia does not mean an army that is weaker, less perfect, as some professional military men suppose. A militia-type army is formed on the basis of compulsory military training carried on outside barracks, in the localities, so that trainers and trainees are not taken away from the factories and fields: they are worker soldiers and peasant soldiers. If we had had an organised militia, the jabs inflicted by our enemies, their guerrilla raids in this direction or that, would at once have met with organised and planned rebuffs in the places where they occurred. That is the ideal army towards which we shall move, the army which we shall achieve. But we were unable to organise it straightaway, and found ourselves obliged to take the workers and peasants away from their own everyday habitats and rush them to the front.

We were compelled, as I have said, to direct our army first and foremost towards the East: we had to succeed there at any cost. As you know, that was done – but how? By putting an end, among ourselves, to amateurism and petty localism in military matters. Although the enemy, too, was operating by the method of semi guerrilla raids, he had at his disposal units with a high percentage of officers, excellently organised and ably led by skilled commanders. This guerrilla method employed by the enemy presented a serious threat to us, given the correct, ‘scientific’ state of things on his side. In order to protect ourselves against it, to exploit our central situation, we needed to put a definite stop to amateurish, home made, guerrilla habits in the revolutionary army. Where this question was concerned, two tendencies clashed in our ranks – to some extent at the fronts but, in particular, in the rear. At first, some of our comrades said: ‘Under existing conditions we shall not form a centralised army with a centralised apparatus of administration and command, we haven’t either the time or the technical means for that. Consequently, we must confine ourselves to forming small, well organised forces of the regimental type, only bigger and enriched with all sorts of special technical units.’ That was the original idea of very many comrades: separate forces, each consisting of two, three or four thousand soldiers, appropriately combining the different arms. This was a feeble method of fighting: if it was not possible to finish the enemy off, to wipe him from the face of the earth, what we could at least do was to worry him and do him some damage. The Germans were stronger than we were in the period when they launched their offensive, and all we could do was to throw our detachments against them so as to hold up their advance and make guerrilla raids into their rear. But we were unable to stop at that. We had to destroy, by planned action, the enemy who was cutting us off from the most fertile and richest provinces of Russia. The variety of our foes meant that we were completely surrounded by fronts. In the East, the Czechoslovaks; in the North, the Allied expeditionary force; in the West, the German offensive; in the South, Krasnov; in the Ukraine, Skoropadsky. This showed that we must concentrate large scale forces in the centre of the country, so as to be able to throw them, along lines radiating from the centre, to where they were needed at any given moment. But if we were to be in a position to dispose expediently of our armed forces at any moment, we had to do away, once and for all, with amateurism in the shape of independent units. To be sure, these independent units quickly renamed themselves ‘regiments’ and ‘divisions’. What existed, however, was merely the name of a division: there was no actual division but only guerrilla units which did not recognise any centralised command from above and operated on the initiative of their own atamans or leaders. We experienced many difficulties and conflicts in connection with this matter, because in the amateur guerrilla circles there was tremendous distrust towards those at the centre who were keeping an eye on them and seeking to control them: ‘Won’t they undermine us,’ they said, ‘won’t they betray us?’ This was the first point. The second point was that these units had performed great services in the past in the fight against the Russian bourgeoisie, against the counter revolution; they had shown great heroism and had leaders who had displayed, in small scale, guerrilla warfare, certain talents and military qualities?some of them, at any rate. Hence their doubts, their exaggerated confidence in themselves and exaggerated distrust of command from above. There had to be severe experiences of defeat in guerrilla operations against the Germans and on other fronts, there had to be an ideological struggle, and there had to be repressive measures imposed from above, before some of the new commanders were forced to appreciate that an army is a centralised organism, that fulfilment of orders from above is the necessary guarantee of unity in action. This kind of preliminary work had to be done in order that we might go over from retreat to advance, in order that we might operate simultaneously before Kazan, Simbirsk and Samara. Only after that did we begin to have successes: we cleared the Volga and began to approach the Urals.

At this point I must, in passing, give high praise to the work done by our Red airmen at the front. There were, certainly, cases of betrayal, of going over to the enemy, but these were isolated cases, and they happened principally in the first period of the war. The overwhelming majority of the airmen are working honestly and devotedly. I observed their work especially closely before Kazan, in the very difficult weeks of August 1918: then, when our regiments were still too weak, with little fighting capacity, the detachments of airmen who were operating before Kazan did literally everything to substitute for our infantry, cavalry and artillery. They took off in all kinds of weather, circled over Kazan and over the enemy’s flotilla, they dropped heavy bombs, they established communication with our troops who were operating north east of Kazan and were cut off from us. In the most difficult situations our Red airmen have shown themselves heroes in the last few months, as well: our Red air fleet, which had been completely smashed up, has gathered together its scattered members, and reunited, so that now we have Red warriors of the air of whom our enemies speak with hatred.

On the Southern front the same phenomena were repeated as in the East. A number of units which had come from the Ukraine were operating there against Krasnov, and their ranks included some devoted and experienced fighters. But there was no system of communication and discipline common to the entire army, to the entire front. ‘Every man was his own model.’ Considering any commander sent from above to establish operational unity as a highly suspicious character, they preferred to play it by touch: if they felt pressure, they retreated; they groped to discover where the enemy was strong; where he was weak, there they advanced. They developed a certain knack in this sort of warfare. Among such outstanding fighters were, for example, our fallen comrades Sievers and Kikvidze, who developed their rather effective methods in fighting against the Cossacks: they knew how to track down, to take evasive action, to throw back, to turn the flank, to smash. But all this was within the limits of small skirmishes, bringing with them small successes or small failures. And the struggle, after all, was going on for months and demanding colossal sacrifices, without any real changes being effected in the situation.

After the influx of the best workers from Moscow, Petrograd and other places into the South, the mass of the Red Army men learnt under their leadership that what was being waged was war to the death, and so they closed ranks and pulled themselves together. But that was still not enough: we needed to re educate the commanding personnel, whom we had recruited from three sources. There had been mobilised, on the one hand, commanders from among the regular officers, and, on the other, we had the new commanders already mentioned, who had learnt their trade as leaders of guerrilla detachments. Finally, we were producing our own Red officers. Most of these proved to be excellent soldiers, reliable leaders for the future, but at first they lacked experience, and so they could fill only the lower positions of command – at best, they could be platoon commanders, or, in rare instances, company commanders. There were many cases when Red officer comrades, after spending a certain time in a position of command, applied to be given permission to fight as rankers for a few weeks. Although very worthy workers, they lacked battle experience. The former NCOs who passed through the instructors’ courses had an immense advantage over them in that they had already obtained that experience. By and large, the Red officers are excellent material, and we have succeeded in getting from among them in these last three months many good junior commanders.

The old regular officers, a considerable number of whom were mobilised, have provided many conscientious workers and experienced commanders. For reasons you will understand I shall not give any figures, but I will say this, that thousands and thousands of leaders and commanders, of lower, middle and higher rank, have emerged from among them, and they are fighting valiantly and self sacrificingly on our new fronts, alongside the Red Army men. This has been especially true in those armies which were well organised and firmly welded. There, nobody asked: ‘Were you an officer in the old army, or are you a Red officer, or do you come from the soldiers or the guerrillas?’ In those armies there has been complete integration in battle.

The turn in the mood of the best elements of the old officer corps took place gradually. For a long time they hesitated, full of doubts about the Soviet power: they were influenced by the bourgeois papers which proclaimed that the Soviet power was betraying Russia to the Germans. They heard that same slander from Milyukov, from Tsereteli, from all those petty bourgeois ‘authorities’, and so they hesitated, not knowing where to take their stand, which way to go ... When we were surrounded by a ring of enemies on all sides, when it seemed that the days of the Soviet power were numbered, a large number of former officers went over to our enemies, sometimes handing over our units as they did so. We dealt ruthlessly, of course, with those of them that we caught. Not a few of them were executed. But when some excessively hasty comrades said: ‘Stop bringing officers into the Red Army,’ we replied: ‘No, that is a bad idea. We need leaders with knowledge, the army cannot begin from the first letter in the alphabet when we are surrounded by a ring of enemies.’ It was not possible that, among the tens of thousands of former regular officers, we could not find a few thousand honourable soldiers who felt they had a bond with the worker and peasant masses of toiling Russia and would be incapable of selling their country to the German, French or British imperialists. Particular betrayals, even though numerous, did not in the least cause us to alter our policy in this matter. And we can now say with complete confidence that this policy of attracting the most honourable and cleanest elements of the former officers into the work of building our army, and into operational leadership thereof, has proved fully justified.

Finally, from among the self-taught, the guerrillas, good, disciplined and solid commanders have been developed. We have one army in which the commander is a former NCO and the chief of staff is a former general from the General Staff. Another army is commanded by a former general, and his second in command is one of the self taught. We have every sort of combination, we have allowed no invariable rule to be established in this matter: everywhere we have tried to bring to the top leaders who are energetic, able and honest. The commissars are enormously helpful to those commanders who lack experience or who are not firm politically. This is also the position in our divisions. At the head of one division stands a former soldier who was not even an NCO, and the commander alongside him is a former General Staff colonel, and between the two of them there are excellent relations and mutual respect, because, when men shed their blood together, that forms the closest possible bond of union.

This situation was not achieved all at once. Over a period of two or three months we established order on the Southern front, by means of intense work, in the face of Krasnov’s troops, in an area where the enemy was especially stubborn and strong. We ourselves were sufficiently strong in terms of numbers, but were not centralised. Krasnov’s forces, which were weli led, operated by means of isolated raids, vigorous thrusts that were painful for us, and they succeeded to the extent that we feared for the fate of Voronezh, after they had taken Novokhopersk and Borisoglebsk and even bombarded Tsaritsyn, where military supplies of all kinds were accumulated. At the best moments of the conflict, from their standpoint, their army numbered no more than 100,000, including all reserves. But they possessed the tremendous advantage of initiative and surprise, those most important conditions for military success. They did not maintain a front. After making a thrust towards Voronezh and bringing disorder into our ranks, they left a very thin screen around the place and shifted their main forces towards Balashov and Tsaritsyn. Our troops remained generally passive, because we did not possess one single really organised unit that could rightfully be said to belong either to the army of Voronezh or the army of Tsaritsyn. Moreover, we had no unified front. Our principal effort was directed to attaining this. Vigorous organisational and agitational work was needed, on the one hand, in order to counter the secret provocateurs and scoundrels who were trying to worm their way into the army, so as to undermine its morale from within, to disintegrate it and make it helpless, and, on the other, to counter the habits of guerrilla warfare – trying to work in accordance with one’s own will alone, not wanting to take account of the overall operational requirements of the given army or of the whole front. In both of these directions we had complete success. In the course of the work, honest and capable commanders came to the top, while the scoundrels who had entered for the purpose of betraying were identified and shot. The best elements among the guerrillas became convinced that it was not possible to get very far on a guerrilla basis. We firmly eliminated those who were unwilling to recognise the demands of operational unity. As a result of this work, a turn took place in the mood of the whole front. In every direction, at Voronezh, at Balashov or at Tsaritsyn, everywhere there was now a feeling of unity of command against the common enemy, unity in the conception of operations and unity in the way they were carried out. ‘Now, at last, we feel that we have a front,’ said everyone, big and small commanders alike, with joy, when the three armies of the Southern front, internally unified, began to work in harmony.

After that, we went over, on the Southern front as on the Eastern, from retreat to attack, and our attack proved more and more victorious. February was the decisive month. We can now say that Krasnov?s army has almost ceased to exist. Its basic nucleus has been utterly smashed and has fled in panic. You know that Krasnov himself has resigned, and has withdrawn from Novocherkassk to Novorossiisk, mainly because he is afraid of the vengeance of his former subjects. Not only is the whole railway line from Novokhopersk [The ‘Novokhopersk’ line mentioned here runs north-north-west from Tsaritsyn, the ‘Likhaya’ line west-south-west to the Donbas.] to Tsaritsyn in our hands, and Tsaritsyn again united with the rest of Soviet Russia by a rail link, but also the railway from Tsaritsyn to Likhaya, a very important line which had been in the hands of the Krasnovites, has now almost entirely been conquered by us, with the acquisition of many prisoners and a great deal of war booty. What remains is to destroy with all vigour whatever is left of Krasnov’s army. There is a more complex task to be faced in the Donets Basin where the enemy consists partly of the more substantial vestiges of Krasnov’s forces, but, in the main, of units of Denikin’s Volunteer Army which have been transferred thither from North Caucasia. They are trying to defend the Donets Basin and, along with it, Rostov and Novocherkassk, because they have not yet lost the last rag of hope for help from the Allies. But here, too, there can be no doubt that, after the liquidation of the bourgeois power in the Ukraine, and after the liquidation of the Krasnov front, the precious basin of the Donets will not be kept from us, and the Donets workers and peasants will rule there. [7]

In addition to what I have told you about the Southern front, a few words must be said about the Caspian Caucasian front. There we have suffered some very serious setbacks in the last two months, which might seem quite unexpected, since, not long before, we had conquered an extensive territory in North Caucasia, with some very important places. But this setback was suffered, in the main, quite legitimately, being a result of the crisis and breakdown of guerrilla-ism. In North Caucasia we possessed a very substantial army, made up of those same refugees from the Ukraine, together with units from the Don, Terek and other territories. Among them were not a few very honest and devoted revolutionaries, but there were also quite a lot of adventurers and an even larger number of casual persons whom the counter revolution had derailed and who had settled themselves down around the soldiers? cauldron. The habits of guerrilla warfare, unfamiliarity with precise, formal organisation and correct, formal relations, became established there more firmly than anywhere else, owing to remoteness from the centre. Already last autumn I gave a formal instruction to the delegation of the North Caucasian troops to retain in the army no more than one third of their then numbers, bringing these into proper formation and either discharging the rest or sending them North. ‘When you are only one third as numerous you will be thrice as strong,’ I assured the delegation. Unfortunately, though, this matter went no further than persuasion, owing to the extreme remoteness of the front and the complete absence of adequate communication with it. The inertia of guerrilla-ism proved too strong. The army retained its huge numerical strength and without fighting any serious battles, it achieved some very notable successes. Instructors were sent to it from Astrakhan – serious, reliable military specialists – but they were returned to Astrakhan, on the grounds that they were not needed. The Red Army has no more dangerous enemy than the complacency of self assured guerrilla-ism which does not want to learn, does not want to make progress. And now we see the result: a swollen army, or rather a horde, has clashed with Denikin’s properly organised troops and in a few weeks has been reduced to dust. We have here once more paid a high price for the illusion of guerrilla ism. But this lesson will not have been received in vain. Intense work is now being undertaken in North Caucasia which will, let us hope, have its effect in a very short time. What we have lost there will be repaid to us with interest.

On the Northern front, comrades, after our loss of the Murmansk and Archangel areas, we have remained relatively passive. True, in recent weeks we enjoyed a success, with the capture of Shenkursk. This was a glorious, even though minor, page in the history of our struggle. In very difficult conditions, in which the enemy, in his own words, considered it impossible to move up so much as a field kitchen, our soldiers, clad in white overalls, working through the frozen night, dragged a six inch gun along on sleigh runners, penetrated deep into the enemy’s rear, and forced him to flee from Shenkursk. They took prisoners and a great deal of booty and drove the enemy 80-90 versts back towards the North. All that, however, amounted only to a partial success: in general we remain passively defensive on our Northern front. [8]

With a front 8,000 versts long, we should have had, in order to conduct an active strategy, to maintain a numerous army here, there and everywhere. But we do not possess such an army. Consequently, some sectors of this 8,000 verst front remain, for the time being, passive, and our activity is concentrated on other sectors which are, for the moment, more important. In this lies the advantage of our central situation in relation to all the fronts?we are constantly able to transfer and concentrate our forces. But this advantage was created and realised only after we had set up the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic, with a single commander in chief for all fronts, after unity of command had been established on all fronts, and unity of command in the armies on each front. Only after the establishment of a common operational leadership and of the practice of strict fulfilment of military orders coming down from on high did everyone feel, did every single soldier feel, in reality, on the spot, the tremendous advantage that is possessed by a centralised army over guerrilla ism and amateurish methods. Along with this we obtained the possibility of calculating and choosing the point at which we must develop our most active struggle at each given moment. After our successes on the Volga, our main efforts were shifted, as I have said, to the line of the Don front. That is why we have remained passive in the North?and all the more so because in these last two months two new fronts have been opened, regarding which, although we expected them, we could not foresee just when they would again be transformed into active sectors, namely, the Ukrainian front and the Western front.

The military question was posed afresh in the Ukraine by a major political event – the revolution in Germany, which led to revolt in the Ukraine. Here we could see especially clearly the direct link between our military operations and their natural soil, the workers’ and peasants’ revolution. We are waging a war. But this is not a war like other wars, in which territory is passed from one hand to another but the regime stays the same. Our war is the organised revolution, defensive or offensive, of the workers, a revolution which either defends or extends its conquests. If anyone is inclined to forget that, the events in the Ukraine have loudly reminded him of it. There, our front suddenly tame alive and pressed southward, though at first, to be sure, almost without participation by any regular units. We faced an urgent task there – to get rid of the local, as yet unorganised bourgeoisie, not to allow them to organise after the German army, which had supported the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, had suffered, first, disintegration, and then revolutionary re education, and had returned home to Germany. At that time the guerrilla detachments played a tremendous and absolutely fruitful role in the Ukraine. There as elsewhere, of course, from early on, more regular units of the Soviet forces made their appearance, and the guerrillas increasingly operated like a satellite around a planet. They began to group themselves around the regular units which appeared there in response to the appeal of the Ukrainian workers and peasants, and the Ukrainian command has now been assigned the task of uniting the guerrilla detachments into established units, regular divisions. And this work is going ahead in the Ukraine with great success, because the military executives there possess the advantage of our one year’s experience: they have learnt a lot from our mistakes and our achievements. One way or another, though, the Ukrainian front has diverted comparatively large forces – mostly, of course, Ukrainian troops. [9]

It was in these circumstances that we were faced by the activation of the Western front. In the West, military operations were comparatively few and involved few losses. There, what chiefly counted was our agreement with the German soldiers, who opposed the German commanders in a revolutionary spirit, and our direct fraternisation with the German soldier Communists. All this, though, was accompanied by armed clashes wherever the German White Guards or local bourgeois elements opposed us with armed force. As a result of these combined military and political operations we cleared a very extensive territory in the West. But our task there is far from finished. The bourgeoisie of the Western zone recovered from its first impressions, awoke from stupor, and with the help of Western Europe – Britain and France, and to some extent Germany – succeeded in getting together some sort of units with which it threatened, on the one hand, Yamburg, and, on the other, Pskov, and tried to create a threat to Riga. In Estonia the Soviet Estonian army is being combated not only by the Estonian White Guards but also by the Finnish bourgeoisie and even by small detachments of Swedes, along with German and Russian White Guards – in short, there is a whole international, the White-Guard International, over there in the countries adjoining the Baltic Sea, operating with the support of the British Navy. [10]

If we had allowed this front to get stronger, a considerable danger might have developed there, and a few weeks ago it might have been said that this danger was indeed present. I spent the last few weeks on that sector of the front, and I beheld there again the same picture that at times I had observed on the other fronts. We could not detach tempered units from the other fronts, weakening those fronts in order to send these units to Estonia, and so what went thither were younger units, hastily put together from recently mobilised peasants, who had not yet had experience of battle and had not yet been subjected, either, to political work – and these units scattered at once under the first serious blow from the enemy. As always happens in such cases, there were some direct betrayals – for example, in the division which fought in the Narva direction, a regimental commander led part of his regiment into surrender, so that, naturally, the other half fled in panic. In short, we had there, a month and a half or two months ago, the situation that had been seen on the other fronts six months ago. I talk about all this with such frankness, comrades, because you need to know clearly all sides of the building of the army and of its life, including all the seamy sides. Setbacks must in no case make us throw up our hands. In a revolutionary epoch a revolutionary army is, essentially, a highly strung army which lives by fits and starts cases of crisis and panic occur in it more often than in normal times ... But, on the other hand, if this young, highly strung army is welded together, given an idea, given the necessary tempering, enabled to win its first victory, then its highlystrung nature is transformed into a mighty offensive force, it strives to advance and becomes invincible. That is why the hesitations, the waverings and even the panic stricken retreats of youthful units do not fill our hearts with pessimism. Two or three weeks of vigorous work by the commanders and commissars on the Narva and Pskov sectors of the Estonian front were all that was needed to regenerate that front, and those soldiers who, merely out of unfamiliarity, lack of the most elementary experience, had fled in panic, have now pulled themselves together and have not only reconstituted their units but have regenerated them inwardly. I visited one and the same unit twice, with an interval often days, and on the second occasion I did not recognise it. In this lies the tremendous power of the revolutionary idea and of revolutionary methods of construction. Nowhere else, in any country or in any army at all, can the commander of a regiment say to each soldier: ‘You must give your life, if you are called upon to do so, because you are fighting for the interests of your family, of your children, for the future of your grandchildren: this is the war of the oppressed and the working people for their own emancipation.’ These simple words, with which we appeal to the mind and heart of every soldier, accomplish real miracles.

In every regiment and every company there are elements of differing quality: the more conscious, the more self sacrificing, are, of course, a minority: at the other pole is a tiny minority of hostile elements, ignorant, corrupt, self seeking, sometimes consisting of kulaks, counter revolutionaries. Between these two minorities, standing at opposite poles, are those who are simply not conscious enough, the uncertain, the waverers, who in their thought and feelings are good, honest working citizens of the Soviet land, but who stand in need of military and political training. And when the commander of some regiment, or some commissar, says to me: ‘I can’t answer for my regiment, there are self-seekers in it, and when they have to go into action they say: we haven’t been given this, we haven’t been given that.’ ‘It’s a bad regiment,’ I reply, with complete confidence: ‘If the regiment is a bad one then it must be that the commander is bad and the commissar is bad, for these men are the same as are found in other regiments: they, too, are, in the main, honest workers and peasants.’ If they see that their leaders are shaky, if doubt creeps into their minds as to whether the commander is running the regiment properly, if they have no moral respect for the regimental commissar, then, of course, disintegration occurs: the self seekers get the upper hand, the best elements, discouraged, hold aloof, and the in between elements don’t know with whom to side, and in the event of danger they give way to panic. Where the commanders, especially the lower commanders, are good, where they are honest and firm, where the commander and the commissar of a regiment are good, any regiment will prove to be up to its task. Give me the very worst of regiments, give me 3,000 deserters, taken from wherever you like, and call them a regiment. I will give them a good, honest regimental commissar, a fighting commissar, give them the right battalion, company and platoon commanders – and I affirm that within four weeks those three thousand deserters will provide our revolutionary country with a splendid regiment. And that is not a hope, not a programme, not an idea, it has all been tested by experience, and in the last few weeks we have again tested it by our experience on the Narva and Pskov sectors of the front, which are now held by units that have been welded into unity.

There is one more potential front of which I have said nothing so far, namely, the Karelian or Finnish front. No military operations are taking place there. Finland is not directly at war with us, although she is indirectly fighting us by sending her troops to Estonia, from where they are attacking Yamburg along with the White Guards, Estonian and Russian. But there is no front, in the strict sense of the word, on the Karelian isthmus. However, in recent weeks there has been in Finland frenzied (in the strict sense of the word) agitation in favour of an offensive against Petrograd. They think that we are more vulnerable there, since we have lost command of the Baltic Sea and so the approach to Petrograd is now less well defended. When it was in power last year, the working class of Finland was Petrograd’s best shield. But now, for the time being, the bourgeoisie rules in Finland, and their leader, Mannerheim, a former Russian general, has in recent months and weeks been carrying on an agitation for an attack on Petrograd, and the Finnish and Swedish bourgeois press has been saying that Petrograd can be taken with one short, sharp blow, by a raid – for which task, they say, it would be enough to assign just one or two divisions. Furthermore, General Mannerheim has ordered his forces to hold manoeuvres close to our frontier, at Terijoki, and the Finnish bourgeois press has openly written about this in a challenging tone. Thefe has been, of course, no great alarm in Petrograd on this account, for it is comical and absurd to talk of the Finnish bourgeoisie, which barely managed (with the help of Hohenzollern bayonets) to cope with the revolution of the Finnish working class [11], the bourgeoisie of a country with a population of no more than two and a half millions, being competent to do battle with revolutionary Soviet Russia. Nevertheless, profound indignation was aroused among the workers of Petrograd by the idea that the Finnish White Guards, whose swords are still wet with the blood of the Finnish workers, should dare to threaten the working class of Petrograd, our Red, revolutionary capital.

In reply to Mannerheim’s manoeuvres we held our own manoeuvres on our border with Finland. We called on everyone to rally to the defence of Petrograd. The greatest and most ardent response to this call came from the comrades who are attending the military training courses in Petrograd. At their unanimous request, the normal activity of these courses was suspended, and all these cadets were formed temporarily into a mobile unit of superb quality. We held a review of this unit on the former Palace Square, now called Uritsky Square, and in this review there took part an officer of the French army, Captain Sadoul, who has broken with his Government, with the French military mission, in order to defend the Soviet power, and is now working in our military inspectorate. This Captain Sadoul, standing beside me and looking at our young future Red officers and their splendid military bearing, the enthusiasm written on their faces, the inspiring orderliness of their ranks, said with delight that this was one of the most sublime spectacles he had ever seen in his life, adding: ‘How sorry I am that the French military mission, headed by General Niessel, is not here: if they were to see your future Red officers, formed into this fighting unit, they would say to their government: beware of attacking Russia, Russia is not defenceless, she has her own Red soldiers and officers!’ And to these cadets, these young Petrograd comrades, I promised that if Petrograd were really to be threatened from Olonets [Olonets is a town near the eastern shore of Lake Ladoga, north east of Petrograd, where fighting took place between the ‘White’ Finns and Red Army units supported by the Red Ladoga Flotilla.], Karelia or the Yamburg front, the task of meeting this threat would be allotted to them – they would be the first in the defence of Red Petrograd, and they responded to this pledge as befits honourable soldiers of the revolution. They assumed this responsibility with joy, and, in particular, they carried out splendidly the manoeuvres in which they took part.

But what happened? What happened was that Mannerheim’s fearful enterprise ended in a big fiasco. He moved a few echelons up to our frontier, but the White Guard Finnish regiments held a meeting – oh, horror! – at Terijoki [Terijoki is now, under the name Zelyonogorsk, included in the Leningrad Region of the RSFSR.], at which they declared: ‘You are leading us not to manoeuvres but to war with the Red Army: we are ready to defend ourselves, but we don’t want to attack Petrograd!’ And Mannerheim had to pull his echelons back. In his manoeuvres there eventually took part no more and no less than ... two companies. Thus, this experiment ended in a miserable collapse. The next day, or the day after, an interview with General Mannerheim appeared in the papers, in which he said that for international and other considerations the attack on Petrograd ... would be put off till the spring. Consequently we can wait more or less calmly on that front until spring comes. As for the terrible General Mannerheim, it is appropriate to recall where he is concerned the expressive phrase of our famous satirist Saltykov Shchedrin: ‘He promised great bloodshed, but actually he ate a siskin.’ It was like that with General Mannerheim: he promised to seize Petrograd with one short, sharp blow, but actually he found a couple of companies to carry out manoeuvres near Terijoki.

Should, however, the position of the Finnish bourgeoisie, or pressure on them by Anglo French capital, compel them to launch an offensive against Petrograd, then, of course, we would have a new front. There can be no doubt that in that case we should not restrict ourselves to defensive measures, but would ourselves strike a short, sharp blow at Helsingfors, for the Finnish working class is waiting for help to come from the Red troops of Petrograd. At the Petrograd instructors? courses, when they learnt of Mannerheim’s order for an offensive, the Finnish cadets (they have their own military school) asked to be sent to the front against that hangman. Besides these cadets we have some fine units consisting entirely of Finnish workers. What is even more instructive is that fact that of the 17,000 men compulsorily mobilised by Mannerheim (along with the bourgeois guard), according to his own Finnish bourgeois press, 90 per cent are Reds. True, our Finnish comrades say that this is an exaggeration, that the army contains not 90 per cent but only 70 per cent Reds. But even that is quite enough. It is not for nothing that Mannerheim is refraining from arming the conscripts. An offensive by the Red forces against Helsingfors would be supported with enthusiasm by the whole Finnish working class. We declared in Petrograd that we are not going to try and create a new front between Finland and Petrograd, but if this front does come into being, on the initiative of our enemies, then we shall take measures to ensure that Petrograd is safeguarded from the Finnish side once and for all, and there is only one way to do that – by establishing in Finland the power of the workers and the poor peasants.

Summing up the position on our fronts, it can be said that the situation is completely favourable. The work that has been accomplished by the Red Army is colossal. In August 1918 our military situation was most difficult – it was the time of the fall of Kazan. After that, in the course of seven months, the Red Army cleared an immense territory, about 130 uyezds and 28 provinces, with a total area exceeding 850,000 square versts and a population of 40 millions. In terms of area, that is equivalent to Italy, Belgium and Greece put together, and in population it is equivalent to France. According to the information supplied by the All-Russia General Staff, on which I rely, the towns in the provinces recovered were 166 in number, while the non urban inhabited localities exceeded 164,000. Among the more important towns I will name to you: on the Western front Pskov, Riga, Vilna, Minsk, Gomel, Chernigov; on the Southern front – Kiev, Poltava, Kharkov, Yekaterinoslav, Aleksandrovsk, Kupyansk, Bakhmut, Lugansk; on the Eastern front – Kazan, Simbirsk, Syzran, Samara, Ufa, Orenburg, Uralsk. From the economic standpoint, the region Lugansk-Bakhmut-Slavyansk-Nikitovka is of enormous importance, for its deposits of rock salt, coal, mercury and gypsum: also important are the Ufa-Orenburg area, and the provinces of Vyatka, Kazan, Samara and Orenburg, with their deposits of iron ore, and the area of the Samara Bend, with its asphalt deposits. In the recovered portion of Yekaterinoslav province there are very important metallurgical works. Finally, the line of the front has reached Krivoy Rog, which is rich in iron ore deposits. On the Eastern front we have occupied a number of factories of great military importance, such as the Izhevsk and Votkinsk works in the Samara area, and on the Southern front the cartridge factory at Lugansk. Finally, the taking of Orenburg opens the door to Turkestan, from which we can get the cotton needed for our textile industry. The whole of the East and South are rich grain growing areas. This is the territory that the workers? Red Army has traversed and won for workers? Russia. [12]

Comrades! We cannot conclude from all this that our task has been completed. No, far from that! Today the Soviet power is putting forth every effort to secure peace as soon as possible, even at the price of burdensome concessions, for nothing can be more burdensome for our worn out and starving people than this dreadful war that has been forced upon us. A year ago we signed the peace of Brest Litovsk in order to win a breathing space for our people and our country. The breathing space was too short, for at once we had enemies coming at us from the other side. Not so long ago, the People#s Commissar for Foreign Affairs repeated in precise, official form the statement made by the Soviet Government to all the governments which are fighting against us. The gist of the statement is this: ‘You are fighting against the Russian workers and peasants – for what? Do you want the interest on your capital? Concessions, territory? What is it that you want? Tell us, and we will talk in a businesslike way about what we can, what we shall be obliged to give up to you in order that the Russian people may be allowed to work in peace.’

You and I know, of course, that everything we give up now will come back to us, because Soviet Russia is only yielding to the imperialists for the time being. Under the Brest Litovsk peace, we temporarily surrendered an immense zone in the West, together with the whole Ukraine, to German and Austro-Hungarian imperialism. At that time our bourgeoisie, which itself walked hand in hand with German imperialism wherever it could, accused us of treason, of betraying the country. We answered: ‘There is no army, so we are forced to yield. But what we are giving will come back to us.’ And while the German regiments came to Russia as oppressors and enslavers, under the yellow banners of imperialism, they went home as revolutionary regiments, under the red banner of communism. The same thing will happen, in the end, as a result of our concessions to France, Britain and America. We say to Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau: ‘Everything that you take from us the British, French and American workers will give back to us within a month or two, within six months, within a year, when they establish Soviet power in their countries.’

I am asked, in connection with this, what the position is regarding the Princes’ Islands. [The project for a conference between the contending groups in Russia is usually referred to as ‘the Prinkipo plan’, from the name of the largest of the Princes’ Islands – where Trotsky was destined to spend the first phase of his exile. The Turkish name for the group is Kizil Adalar, and for Prinkipo Büyukada.] The Princes’ Islands are, as you know, islands in the Sea of Marmora, to which the Anglo-French and American imperialists were going to invite us for negotiations concerning the fate of Russia. They decided, of course, to invite not only the Soviet Government but also all the other so-called governments, White and Black, which have not yet managed to perish because they are supported by foreign imperialism. Krasnov replied that he would not attend a conference with Bolsheviks. He gave this reply very proudly a few weeks ago, but now he himself has had, as an exile, to leave his Don and seek refuge in Novorossiisk. The Constituent Assembly men were previously fighting against us, but now they have come to seek refuge and protection on our territory. The same fate awaits Kolchak as Krasnov. We have declared that we are ready to go to the Princes’ Islands, and before the whole world we shall explain there what it is that keeps us in power: we have never been supported by foreign bourgeois governments and we have not sought such support, but, on the contrary, have categorically rejected it. All our enemies – Krasnov, Skoropadsky, Dutov, Denikin, Petlyura – all were kept in power exclusively by the support of the foreign bourgeoisie. We have stood and we are standing on our own feet. And we are ready to say that, and to prove it, anywhere at all: in Moscow or over there, where they are, on the Princes’ Islands. But they themselves, apparently, have changed their minds, or are hesitating, about whether to invite us to that spot – perhaps because they know that the negotiations at Brest Litovsk rendered great service to the cause of the German revolution. We are not worried about what they decide. If they decide to convene the conference on the Princes’ Islands, we shall go there, and we shall continue there the work we did at Brest Litovsk. If they change their minds and decline to hold the conference, we shall wait. With every day that passes the number of these bogus White governments in Russia is lessening, for the Soviet power is scraping them off the face of the earth. As regards the Princes’ Islands, they do not attract us, if only because of their princely name. Perhaps, while these gentlemen are pondering, we shall find our own, Soviet islands to which we shall convey imperialists from all countries?but not at all for the purpose of negotiations.

At present, however, today, Soviet power does not prevail in France, Britain and America, and we openly announce that we are ready to buy off the beasts of prey and hangmen who have put a knife to the throat of Soviet Russia. That means, comrades, that our war is in the full sense of the word a war of revolutionary defence: they are attacking us, we are defending ourselves. Even in relation to little Finland, with its great crimes, we are not taking offensive measures, we forbear because we know that time is working for us. The policy of peace is the policy of the Soviet power. But this policy of peace is not a policy of surrender, a policy of yielding the conquests of the revolution to its mortal foes. No, the policy of peace presupposes readiness to defend to our last breath the conquests of the revolution, if ever the enemy attacks them. We must oppose the spirit of the dishonest agitation which is being carried on in our country and in our regiments by certain party groups such as the Mensheviks and the Right and Left SRs, who write in the newspapers that, since the country is poor and worn out, we ought to ‘stop the civil war’. ‘There is no need for the Red Army,’ say the SRs. Once again let us recall with whom we are at war: in the South, with Krasnov; in the East, with Koichak; in the West, with the Estonian and Finnish White Guards. They are all attacking us and trying to strangle us. Stopping the civil war, laying down our arms, would mean making ourselves defenceless in face of our enemies. We have every right to say to the Menshevik gentlemen: ‘So you are for stopping the civil war? Then please address yourselves to Kolchak and Krasnov and tell them to stop the civil war.’

Our civil war is revolutionary self-defence. We have addressed ourselves to all our enemies, informing them of our willingness to purchase peace at the price of the greatest concessions and sacrifices. But our enemies have shown themselves unwilling to come to any agreement, because they have considered the Soviet power to be a mortal danger to them, while at the same time believing that they are strong enough to cope with us. That is why they have not wanted to come to any agreement with us.

Recently, however, different notes have been heard sounding in their camp. Lloyd George said not long ago that it was dangerous to attack us, because the result of this attack has been that millions of peasants have rallied round the Soviet power, and will defend their country with all their strength. We learn from the newspapers that America’s President Wilson now considers that the attack by Messrs ‘the Allies’ on Archangel was a mistake. After our capture of Shenkursk, demoralisation set in among the British and American soldiers, who left their positions and fled back to Archangel. There has been open revolt in Murmansk. On the Odessa front, according to information we have received, the French regiments are demanding repatriation, while the black colonial troops cannot stand the climate and have already been sent home from Odessa. Wilson and Lloyd George are beginning to realise that they made a mistake. Besides which, internal conflict is developing among these gentry. Today Japan’s peace programme has been announced: while not calling for Eastern Siberia to be handed over to her, Japan insists that no single country shall have any preference or special concessions in Siberia. This means that these gentry have been forced to limit their aggressive lusts where Soviet Russia is concerned. Why? Because we have become stronger than we were, and they have grown weaker. Under very difficult conditions we have created a strong army, while their armies are breaking up all over the place. And this is happening to their rear as well.

Consequently, our international situation has become better in all respects. But this conclusion must not give rise to complacency, to carefree relaxation: no, we have no right to rest on our laurels. The world wide slaughter is far from having been liquidated, and may burst out again with terrible flames – in the East, on the initiative of Japan, in the North, on the initiative of Britain and America, and in the South and West on the initiative of France, Romania and Poland. Attempts may yet be made to strike us a mortal blow, from this direction or that, at Petrograd or at Moscow.

The bourgeoisie is moribund. But the convulsions of a dying organism are very violent. The sting of a dying fly is very painful. The bourgeoisie is still dangerous. We need to fear the final blow that it may strike. We need to be strong. We need good regiments. We need a good, militant, youthful body of commanders. That means you, comrades! At the moment we have as yet no need to tear you prematurely from your school benches and fling you to the front before your course is finished. We are sufficiently strong to be able to let you peacefully continue with your military training behind the shield provided by our front. But what is required of you is an absolutely conscientious attitude to your work. Our army is a workers’ and peasants’ army, but that does not mean an ignorant, naive army – no, this army does not reject military science and military technique. On the contrary, our proletarian and muzhik army must be equipped and trained in accordance with the last word in military science. Each one of you, after undergoing a short course here, and then having obtained a certain amount of battle experience at the front, must apply himself again and again to military studies, at the military academy or at the school for General Staff cadets which we are opening. Fate has compelled us to concern ourselves with military matters. Since we have to be soldiers of the revolution, a debt of honour enjoins us to be well informed, all round educated soldiers. We shall work, and we shall study!

In our Red regiments you will now find that the demands made upon you are greater than they used to be. We already possess some commanders, and the soldiers have had experience. Consequently, newcomers to the commanding personnel are subjected to higher requirements. You will need to be adequate to the expectations of the soldiers whose fate is entrusted to you as commanders. You will need to maintain a conscientious and honourable attitude to the task that you are called upon to serve.

It is very possible that a long time will still have to pass before we shall be able to stick our bayonets into the ground. Europe offers a spectacle of grim conflict between classes and peoples. Months or years will pass, and then all Europe will be freed from the old oppression and the old exploitation. A federal workers’ and peasants’ republic will be established throughout Europe, and we shall become part of that republic. When that time comes we shall have no reason to fear for the safety of our frontier. Wherever we look, we shall see only friends and brothers.

This is not yet the situation today. The enemy has not been disarmed. We have no brothers or friends among the ruling classes of Europe and the whole world. We must still firmly grasp our rifle, and everyone must maintain towards his responsibilities the attitude of an honourable and valiant soldier of the revolution. You, especially, as future Red commanders, to whom the working class – the working class not only of our country, but of the whole world – looks with faith and hope. For the bourgeois press of all countries declared at the start that we should not be able to create an army, because we should not have any commanding personnel. Now, however, the bourgeois press of Europe and America has acknowledged that we are forming first class commanders out of conscious workers, honest peasants and the best of our soldiers. That means you, comrades! I believe that you will prove to be up to the task that has been assigned to you. But let none of you ever forget that our army is founded upon a lofty, sacred idea: honourably to serve, arms in hand, the interests of the oppressed working masses. Keep this firmly in mind: that which was the hope of the oppressed peoples, the intimate dream of the toilers, their religious fantasy, what they sang about?that hope of salvation, of liberation, which the working and oppressed people of all lands never ceased to look forward to has now begun to be realised. We are starting to approach this new realm of freedom. Our enemies are trying to kill this realisation of the most holy, most cherished ideals of the working people. You are the vanguard called upon to defend the revolutionary conquest of the Russian people. In the terrible hour when the workers’ and peasants’ power turns to you, comrade cadets, to you, comrade commanders, with the words: ‘Danger threatens the Socialist Republic’, you will answer: ‘Present’, and you will fight and die heroically, opposing the enemies of the working people.


1. On February 23, 1919, on the occasion of the celebration of the anniversary of the organisation of the Red Army, big meetings were held in Moscow. Comrade Trotsky spoke to the students of the command courses in the building of the former Alekseyevesk military school. On the following day, February 24, he delivered his report At the fronts, in the Hall of Columns of the House of Unions, to a gathering of the cadets from all the courses in Moscow. This report was published as a separate pamphlet by the publishing house Sovetsky Mir, Moscow 1919.

2. The disintegration of the German army began with the troops which occupied the Ukraine and our Western borderlands. The November Revolution in Germany hastened the process, which developed under the influence of the revolutionary movement in Russia. German soldiers often refused to fight against the Ukrainian insurgents, and they elected soviets of soldiers’ deputies and regimental committees. The revolutionising of the occupation forces had a considerable effect on the break up of the German army as a whole.

3. On the peace of Brest Litovsk, see, for more details, note 20 to Volume I.

4. On the transformation of the Army of the Constituent Assembly into Kolchak’s army and on the fate of the supporters of the Constituent Assembly, see below, Notes 70 and 71.

5. On the revolt by the Czechoslovaks and the struggle against them, see Volume I, pages 273 305 and note 79.

6. The advantage enjoyed by the side which operates on internal operational lines consists in the possibility of combating, unit by unit, at the most favourable moments, the enemy’s advancing forces. Mobility and vigour in action always enable such a situation to be exploited beneficially. During the World War, Germany, making use of her dense railway network, offered a brilliant example of action along inner operational lines. The basic feature of the operational conditions in which the Red Army found itself during the civil war was complete encirclement by its enemies. This theoretical advantage was made practical as soon as we had organised a centralised apparatus for directing military operations, when we became able to use all the country’s forces and resources (railways, fortified areas, etc.) in short, from the time when our army became a regular army and the whole country was transformed, materially and morally, into an armed camp.

7. The Donets oasis did not manage to hold out on that occasion. After concentrating the Volunteer Army in the Kuban and Caucasia, Denikin launched a vigorous offensive against the left flank of the Southern front (the Tenth Army) at Tsaritsyn. Our forces, weakened by the enemy’s uninterrupted attack, held out only with difficulty. The appearance of substantial masses of cavalry in our rear compelled the Tenth Army to fall back northward. On May 19, 1919 Denikin began his offensive against the right flank of our front, at Yuzovka. Makhno’s brigade, which held this sector, did not stand up to the blow, and the enemy’s cavalry broke through the gap thus made. Despite their strong resistance, the Donets workers had once again to suffer, for six months, the rule of the Whites. (For more details on these events, see the section The Southern Front.)

8. On the loss of the Archangel and Murmansk regions see notes 74 and 78 to Volume One.

By January 1, 1919 the British expeditionary force had been joined by American and Italian forces and by detachments of Serbs, former prisonersÂ-of war. Besides seizing the territory and riches of our North, the Allies kept trying to break through to the Urals and the Volga, to link up with Kolchak. By January 1 the enemy, who had already taken Shenkursk, was 70 versts to the North of Vologda. Our Sixth Army was at this time assigned only defensive tasks. However, this army not only beat off the enemy but also sometimes inflicted severe defeats on the White Guards. Our first success was the capture of Shenkursk. Under very difficult topographical conditions, knee-deep in snow, spending the night under the open sky in 37 degrees of frost, the Red Army men stormed Vysokaya Gora and drove the enemy out of the fortified positions that he held. In the course of a single month (down to the middle of February) our army advanced 150-200 versts. The time for decisive operations had not yet arrived.

9. At the end of December 1918 the Ukrainian Soviet Government had the following regular troops at its disposal: one infantry division commanded by Kropivyansky and another commanded by Aussem, the latter also including a Red Cossack regiment.

10. On the clash between our units and the White Guards in Estonia at the beginning of 1919, see below, note 76.

11. On the civil war in Finland, see note 25 to Volume I.

12. For the situation at the front at this moment, see Map I.

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Last updated on: 24.12.2006