The Military Writings of
Leon Trotsky

Volume 2, 1919

How the Revolution Armed

The Southern Front

III. The Red Army’s Second Offensive in the Ukraine
(August-December 1919)


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

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Mironov’s criminal and stupid adventure has ended. The chief culprit has been captured, with all his assistants and his deceived followers. The capture was effected without a single shot being fired; nobody was killed or wounded on either side. This fact is alone the best proof of how shaky and uncertain the Mutineers felt. Whereas Mironov had launched the struggle with the aim of becoming Ataman, the majority of his collaborators clearly did not know where they were going or why. Consequently, at the critical moment they could not find the strength even to resist. They all surrendered at their first encounter with the Red Soviet cavalry. Dismounted and disarmed, they were sent off to be dealt with by the revolutionary military tribunal.

The following fact is noteworthy, though: as soon as Mironov’s men had been captured, they at once asked the commander of our cavalry corps to take them into his service. These men had raised a revolt against the Soviet power, had marched against the Red Army, had had some clashes with it and disarmed some groups of Red Army men – but then, as though nothing had happened, they started to ask to serve in the Red Army, for all the world as if they had been indulging in some prank but now wanted to get back to work.

What does this mean?

It means that among the Cossacks the fissure between the Reds and the Whites has not yet gone deep enough. Whereas the Cossack capitalists and kulaks understand very well where their class interest lies, and give their backing to every bourgeois authority (Krasnov, the German Kaiser, Skoropadsky, Denikin, the Anglo-French imperialists) the working Cossacks still have too weak an appreciation of their own interests and too easily let themselves be misled by various adventurers and rogues who raise ‘all-Cossack’ slogans.

There are no such slogans, apart from lies and deception.

The Cossacks are divided into antagonistic classes. There are the Cossack poor, the proletarian and semi-proletarian section of the Cossacks, who are now on our side with all their hearts. There is the Cossack upper stratum, which is irreconcilably hostile to the proletariat and to Soviet power. And there is the broad intermediate stratum of Cossack middle peasants, who are politically very backward.

It is these peasants that robbers like Krasnov and Denikin and adventurers like Mironov deceive. The Cossack of middling status watches the fierce struggle between the Whites and the Reds and does not know which side to join. As a rule, he joins whichever side seems to him to be the stronger at the given moment. When the Reds arrive, he is with them, but when the Whites temporarily drive out the Reds, the middle peasant does not resist the Whites, either.

Mironov reflects the muddle and vacillation of the backward Cossack middle peasant. So long as our forces were victoriously advancing southward, Mironov led his division as part of the army as a whole. When our front was shaken, and yielded, and Denikin threw us hundreds of versts back, Mironov went into opposition, and along that path reached the stage of open mutiny.

But Mironov does not merely reflect the instability of the middle peasant, he consciously and maliciously exploits the middle peasant’s ignorance, trying to make a career for himself thereby. When the Red forces cleared the Don country, Mironov hoped that with their aid he would gain power over the Cossacks. When Denikin temporarily got the upper hand, Mironov began to adapt himself to Denikin, and was obviously ready to betray the working Cossacks to him in return for the position of Ataman. In doing this, Mironov invariably played upon ‘all-Cossack’ slogans and sentiments.

In his proclamations and speeches Mironov alleged that the Soviet power was preparing ‘the destruction of Cossackdom’. Here Mironov simply lumped together the Cossack landlords and kulaks with the Cossack middle and poor peasants. The Soviet power is bringing destruction to the Don bourgeoisie and the Cossack kulaks. But to the Cossack poor and middle peasants who march with the Soviet power it is bringing freedom and deliverance.

In his attempt to deceive the Cossacks with ‘all-Cossack’ slogans and phrases, Mironov got himself cruelly burnt: he was caught and disarmed by the Red Cossacks. The Cossack regiments of the 23rd Division, which he formerly commanded, turned their backs in indignation and scorn upon the adventurer and traitor.

Nevertheless, as has been mentioned, Mironov’s henchmen expressed readiness to go over from the White forces to the Red, just as previously they had gone ever from the Red to the White. Naturally, their request was bluntly refused and they were all handed over to the tribunal. The latter’s task is to show to all the vacillating Cossacks that the fight between the Reds and the Whites, the workers and the exploiters, the working people and the oppressors, is a fight to the death. In this fight the Soviet power will allow nobody to play tricks and launch adventures.

At the same time, as they advance more deeply into the Don region, the Red Army and the Soviet power will at once take all necessary measures in order to make the Cossacks realise that they must once and for all choose between the Reds and the Whites.

It is a lie that the Soviet power is going to drive the Cossacks by force into the realm of the Commune. Communism will be inculcated only by persuasion and example. But what the Soviet power will not permit the working Cossacks to do is to move from one camp to the other, and at a difficult moment stab the Red Army treacherously in the back. While waging a campaign of annihilation against the Don counter-revolution we shall by word and deed bind the poor and middle peasants to the Red Army and the workers’ and peasants’ power, for in this alone lies salvation for the working people of the Don.

September 16, 1919
En Route, No. 95

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Last updated on: 22.12.2006