The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed


I. The Organisation of the Red Army


Talk with representatives of the Soviet press

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

* * *

The imperialist states have built up their armies over a period of decades, and have then gone to war. Socialist Russia has been compelled to go to war before it was able even to begin seriously to build an army. There are some military pedants who donot want to understand this: they criticise our military operations without realising that what we are having to do in these opera tions is not so much to apply an already available force as to create it.

The Southern front has passed through the same stages as the Eastern front, but on a larger scale: first we had no army, just separate weak units; then came the first serious organisation, big successes, inadequate reserves, setbacks, retreat; a renewed heroic effort, concentration of forces and resources, a turn – and a fresh decisive advance.

The methods of organisation in the South were the same as inthe East. Not long ago, Soviet Russia celebrated the anniversary of the creation of the Fifth Army. [28] This was the first of our armies to be based on regular methods of construction, combining military technique and military knowledge with the revolutionary spirit of communism. Many Fifth Army men were subsequently transferred to the South, and then shifted again from before Voronezh to the front before Ufa. The spring crisis on the Eastern front was due basically to the fact that the fabric of the army had been worn out before sufficient reserves had come up. Exactly the same factor underlay the crisis on the Southern front.

With this difference, though, that the crisis of the Southern armies proved to be incomparably more protracted. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, Denikin turned out to be a more serious opponent than Kolchak: there can now be no doubt about that. In the second place, the Eastern front was more or less homogeneous throughout its length, whereas the Southern front was weakened on its right flank by the Ukrai man guerrillas.


After our Southern armies, having reached Rostov and Novocherkassk, had been forced back several hundred versts, with very heavy losses, we had to begin, in our approach to the task of reviving the Southern front, by ascertaining whether the leading personnel possessed unity of appreciation, method and operation. At a series of conferences of responsible workers from all the armies of the Southern front the experiences of the past months were subjected to critical evaluation, and as a result of these conferences, resolutions were adopted unanimously (in one case with a single contrary vote, and in another case with two abstentions) which established the fact that the methods of building the army which had been followed by the Soviet power had been tested in hard experiences and setbacks and had stood up to this test, and that in subsequent work for reviving and developing the Southern front no changes of principle were called for in military policy, but, on the contrary, the prevailing principles had to be implemented more consistently and systematically.

It might have been feared that in the Ukraine, where the fascination of victorious revolutionary rebellion remained alive for a long time, it would be difficult to achieve the necessary unity in the matter of implementing the principles of a regular army. But this turned out not to be the case. At the conference between the Communist group in the Ukrainian Central Executive Committee and responsible workers in Kiev a resolution was adopted unanimously which recognised that the salvation of the Ukraine lies in eradicating anarchistic rebellion and creating proper centralised military units of the Russian Red Army type. The differences that existed amongst us at the time of the Eighth Congress have now completely disappeared.

Many misunderstandings have been cleared up in the course of events, and particular prejudices have died out. With those comrades who, it seemed, were separated almost by a gulf from the ‘official’ military policy we are now working hand in hand, and it occurs to nobody to recall, in our practical work, the differences that existed between us previously.

The establishment of this complete unity of methods in army-building was in itself already a very solid guarantee of success in reviving the weakened Southern front.


Armies need reinforcements. In the last two months these reinforcements have been supplied, to an adequate extent, not so much from the new age-groups that have been conscripted as from the so-called deserters. I say ‘so-called’ because what is meant, essentially, is the hundreds of thousands of peasants who have not deserted from anywhere but who simply did not answer the call-up, because we failed to get control of them either through our agitation and organisation or through our punitive measures. The planned struggle against evasion of military service, under the pressure of Denikin in the southern provinces, brought about, as is known, a mighty influx of draft-dodgers into the Red Army. They arrived in a very good mood, regarding themselves not as deserters but as ‘volunteers’, tried in every way to make up for their delay in arrival, and have already provided us with tens of thousands of excel lent soldiers. There can be no doubt that the course adopted towards the ‘middle peasants’ favoured this development.


The most difficult question was that of supply. Undoubtedly, a great deal of loss was suffered where this was concerned owing to the extremely vague way in which the problem was conceived at the centre. Under the influence of the lessons of events, we took a step forward, bringing the former Extraordinary Commission for Red Army Supply close to the central department for army procurements of the All-Union Economic Council and the Central Supply Administration, the distributive organ of the War Department. This was a step forward on the road to creating a People’s Commissariat of Army Supply, with a firmly organised centralised apparatus and the same regime of strict discipline as in a military organisation. Such a commissariat does not yet exist. The central department for army procurement works with far less intensity and precision than are needed. But I have no doubt that Comrade Rykov, who now bears the responsibility for all the work of army supply will get the necessary results. A certain degree of success has already been achieved even now. We know what we possess, we know how much is being expended, we know what we shall receive tomorrow, and consequently we are quite confident that we shall not suffer a breakdown in the sphere of army supply.

At the same time, intense work has been accomplished in bringing order into the distributive apparatus in military units. Much remains to be done in this sphere. The path followed by a cartridge, a boot, or a shirt between leaving Comrade Rykov and reaching the soldier in the firing-line is too long. This path must be shortened. Precision in accounting must in no case affect the speed, mobility and manoeuvrability of the supply apparatus. We need to develop the same degree of initiative in this sphere as in that of operations. Ultimately, success not only in our positional warfare but also in our long-drawn-out war of manoeuvre will be three-quarters determined by the quality of our supply organisation. In order to ensure victory over Denikin we must create such a combination of bases, means of transport, accounting and distributing organs that the Red Army man, as he advances, will be well-fed and not eaten by lice, that he will have foot-cloths and boots on his feet, and that his rifle will be cleaned and oiled in good time. And substantial success has been achieved in this direction. Just as, within the framework of the Soviet state as a whole, we manoeuvre, transferring our best workers from other departments to the place where application of the efforts of Communists is most needed today, so, within the framework of the War Department, at the front, in the separate armies, we are learning and teaching others to transfer temporarily the best and most responsible workers to that branch whose functioning is most important at the given moment: from the political departments of the armies and divisions and from the tribunals we are temporarily transferring executives to supply work, so that they may introduce into it firm principles of accounting and rapidity in distribution.


The holding units are the reservoir from which the active armies are reinforced. The crisis on the Eastern front was, in its time, a crisis of reinforcements which, in turn, was to a considerable extent the result of inadequate holding units. The same thing has now been repeated on the Southern front. As in the spring in the East, so now in the South, we have made every effort to develop our holding units and bring them up to the proper level. From the purely theoretical standpoint it would be right for these holding units to be concentrated in the hands of the military districts of the rear, under the control of the General Staff. But the lean centre, from which we have removed many thousands of the best executives, is not now able to cope with this task. As I have said already, first we began to fight, then we set about creating an army. That is why our army was formed, to a considerable degree, in the fighting zone. Our holding units are stationed in the area near the front, which is richer in food-supplies, and are serviced directly by the workers of the active armies. In order to form an opinion of a particular army it is enough to get better acquainted with its holding units. It can now be said with complete confidence that the holding units of the Southern front have been brought to a high level. Continuous provision of good reinforcements to the advancing armies has been fully ensured, and this means we have ensured that our victorious advance will itself prove to be continuous.


The situation is worse at present where the medical department is concerned. Besides organisational shortcomings, for the removal of which measures have been taken by agreement with the People’s Commissariat of Health, the blame for the bad situation of the medical department lies with the passive attitude maintained towards this matter by the Soviet organisa tions and the institutions of the Party and the trade unions. Bourgeois states which possessed colossal resources at the beginning of the imperialist war found themselves unable to cope on their own with the provision of aid to the wounded and sick soldiers and resorted to enlisting the co-operation of the public’s initiative. The impoverished proletarian state needs to a still greater degree the co-operation of Soviet voluntary initia tive. We need to develop the widest agitational and organisa tional work in the country, under the slogan of aid to sick and wounded Red Army men. We must organise a Day of the Wounded Red Warrior. Committees for aid to sick and wounded Red Army men must be formed in every place of any size. Thousands of Communists, and especially Communist women, must be brought into the medical apparatus. A roster of Soviet organisations must be arranged, to cover the railway stations, so as to check on the trains carrying wounded that pass through them. A sharp and attentive Soviet eye must be kept on the military field-hospitals. The Red Army man must be confi dent that the working masses are not only taking care of his family but will also carefully and lovingly look after him, when the cruel mechanism of war thrusts him out of the battle-line.


The general situation can be regarded as fairly good. The Soviet Republic has obtained a second base in the Urals. We are advancing almost unceasingly in two main directions, towards Omsk and towards Aktyubinsk. The richest part of Siberia lies already under the Soviet banner.

A turn has been effected in the South. This has best been shown by Mamontov’s raid. The White-Guard cavalry broke through deep into our rear, but our forces did not falter, continuing their planned and confident advance southward. True, Denikin has conquered a very large part of the Ukraine. But there is nothing durable, nothing solid about this occupation. Its success was due exclusively to the rail-bound way the war is being fought by the Ukrainian insurgents. In a ‘field’ campaign Denikin would have been beaten, for extremely small forces are operating on his side on the Ukrainian front. But, because he has before him a disorganised and scattered guerrilla movement which clings to the lines of the railways, Denikin is making huge leaps by way of chess-moves from one railway junction to the next, conquering extensive spaces that are quite out of proportion with his actual strength. This entire occupation of the Ukraine will prove to be a miserable house of cards as soon as a blow is struck at its main nucleus and its bases.

The Western front still lacks independent significance: it is a derivative magnitude of the Eastern and Southern fronts. Our setbacks in the South encouraged the Polish gentry and the White Guards of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. After the liquidation of Kolchak, a decisive blow on the Southern front will mean liquidation of the robber efforts of impotent Polish and Romanian imperialism and the banditry of the Yudeniches and Balakhoviches. Our capture of Pskov shows that we have already strengthened our position in the West. [29]

From the Southern front, where I several times visited all the armies and was with numerous divisions, I have returned with the profoundest confidence in the invincibility of the Red Army. Complete unanimity of thought and deed prevails among the Communists who are building the army. Many thousands of military specialists have not been tempted in the least by Denikin’s temporary successes, and continue honourably to work along with us, as is shown, incidentally, by the eloquent appeal of the former officers now serving in our 13th Army to the officers of the White-Guard forces. In the Red Army units there is a profound and intense striving to advance and conquer. The morale of the peasant reinforcements is excellent. Supply is getting better ordered week by week. The material available is greater than many suppose. The apparatus of army procurement will soon be taken in hand and will thereby fully ensure that the army’s needs are met. Our second base, the Urals, has doubled the sources of our strength. Calm, confidence, endurance, intense work – and our victory is sure!

August 26, 1919
Izv.V.Ts.I.K., No.183 (741)


28. The first directive to the Fifth Army was issued on August 11, after our loss of Kazan. The formation of this army had started at the beginning of August. The army guarded the approaches to Moscow and was destined to strike the main blow at the Czechoslovak forces. On September 10 the Fifth Army, together with the Arsk group of the Second Army, fought its way into Kazan, and subsequently this army began a rapid advance in the direction of Ufa. The Fifth Army was successful in performing its tasks on the Eastern front right down to the ultimate routing of Kolchak.

29. On Yudenich’s first offensive and its failure, see note 76.

return return

Last updated on: 18.12.2006